Take a Friend to the Doctor

Don’t go to the doctor alone. Whenever possible, take along a spouse, relative, or friend. You just might improve your visit’s outcome, says Lowell S. Levin, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health.

Levin, who is also Chairman of the People’s Medical Society, the nation’s largest health consumer group, says taking a friend to the doctor with you can help in several ways:

  • A friend’s presence helps you stay relaxed and focused so you get what you want out of the consultation.
  • Standing up for your desire to bring a friend into the examining room lets your doctor know you intend to stay in charge of the situation. You’ll be less likely to feel intimidated, and your doctor may well take more time and communicate more clearly.
  • A companion can bring up concerns you had discussed earlier.
  • A friend may be able to raise considerations neither you nor your doctor thought of, for example your lifestyle, your work environment, or the way a current family problem may be affecting your health.
  • A friend can help you recall the details of what the doctor said and what you agreed to do.
  • A friend can remind you of the practical aspects of your plans and decisions: Who takes care of the kids if you have to go in for surgery? Who drives you to the hospital to have a needed test? How do you obtain the special heating pad your doctor recommends?

Who Should You Bring? Your companion should be diplomatic and assertive. Friends who are health professionals may prove especially useful. I have accompanied a number of friends to appointments. It really gets doctors’ attention when you bring along your own physician.

She led me through that bewildering maze of tests, logistics, and a lot more without missing a beat. I just don’t think I could have done it without her.

If your condition requires, continuing contacts with physicians, a friend or family member can be a godsend. A friend who recently endured a series of difficult but successful radiation treatments for cancer said that if his wife had not accompanied him on each hospital visit, he might well have given up. “She took my hand and led me through that bewildering maze of tests, logistics, hospital departments, doctors’ offices, and a lot more, without ever missing a beat. I just don’t think I could have done it without her. It was all I could do to deal with the side effects of the therapy and the psychological blow of learning I had cancer.”

Make it clear when you make your appointment that you intend to bring a friend along. Your doctor may advise against the idea. If so, discuss the matter openly. In some situations, there may be legitimate reasons not to have a friend or family member present: exposure to radiation or other health risks, or the need to discuss embarrassing or confidential material. Be as open-minded as you can.

But if your doctor’s principal objection boils down to discomfort with assertive patients, seek another doctor.

Then write your doctor a follow-up letter explaining your feelings about the matter. Send a copy to the medical chief of staff and another to the chief hospital or clinic administrator. You may even wish to send along a copy of this column. Such feedback can be an important part of letting doctors know that bringing a friend along is, as Dr. Levin says, our perfect right.

An Invitation to Our Readers In choosing articles for Medical Self Care, we sometimes face a dilemma: It’s fine to offer general guidelines, but the bottom line of selfcare is the notion that there is more than one “right” way.

We’d like to profile people who have developed approaches to health concerns as unique and perfectly suited to their lives as their own fingerprints. Your suggestions would be most welcome. Please write to me c/o Medical SelfCare, P.O. Box 1000, Pt. Reyes, CA 949S6. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

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Tom Ferguson MD Written by Tom Ferguson MD

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