October is Health Literacy Month, and its whole purpose is to empower you to understand your medical care so you can make informed decisions about your well-being. Both Health Literacy Month (October) and National Primary Care Week (October 7-11, 2019) highlight the importance of seeing your physician and making health care easier to understand.
In the spirit of Health Literacy Month and National Primary Care Week, we talked with Robert Oliva, MD, a board-certified internal medicine practitioner at AdventHealth Medical Group, about how to get the most out of your doctor visits — and your physician.
Dr. Oliva has been practicing medicine in the Brandon area for over 30 years and specializes in adult preventative medicine, diabetes management and acute and chronic disease management.
Fluent in English and Spanish, Dr. Oliva knows how important it is to have a physician who speaks your language, both literally and figuratively.
“A patient is more likely to follow their treatment plan if they have a provider who can explain complicated health conditions clearly and communicates well,” Dr. Oliva says.
Getting the Most Out of Your Next Doctor Visit
Even if you have a physician like Dr. Oliva who explains everything to you clearly, your time with them is still limited to your appointment hour.
You can be an active force in your own health, but you need to see the path before you can walk it. Use these five tips to prepare for your appointment, make your voice heard and walk away with a clear understanding of your next steps.
Plan Ahead Before Your Appointment
A little planning can make your doctor visits more productive and put your mind at ease, too.
First, you can plan to bring someone you trust to your appointment. When you’re not feeling well, it can be hard to understand (or remember) what’s being said. Another person can take notes, which will help you remember specific facts about the visit.
Next, make a list of concerns you want to discuss. Write down what you intend to talk about, such as what medication you need to take or a description of how you’re feeling. What seems clear ahead of time can be hard to describe to the doctor.
Write Down Questions to Ask
You may feel like your doctor will tell you everything that’s important to know in your appointment. While doctors try to put themselves in your shoes, they depend on patients to ask questions.
Dr. Oliva encourages each of his patients to speak up about their concerns, even if they’re not sure what to ask. “Don’t be nervous to speak up during your appointment,” he says. “As your doctor, I am here to help you, and am willing to listen and do my best to address each of your concerns.”
What questions you have will depend on the reason for your appointment, but some basic ones include:
- What are the side effects of this treatment, or what other complications could it cause?
- What should I do, specifically, to schedule this blood test (if you have one)? When will I get the results?
- Where can I find other information about my condition, including a brochure or website?
- Why do I need this treatment and what are my other options?
For a longer list of questions to ask during a checkup, check out this list of questions from the National Institutes of Health.
Find Accurate Health Information Online
If you feel sick, you’ll probably ask the internet about your symptoms. Answers may be at your fingertips, but there’s also a lot of unreliable information online. Do yourself a favor and turn to reputable websites for health information.
Though there are thousands of places to find health information, a handful of accurate websites have answered the most common health issues. If you have a question, try searching for it within one of the following sources:
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
- National Institutes of Health
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
When you type in your question online, add a well-known resource, like the CDC, to your search terms. For example, if your child has a sore throat and you think it might be strep, you can type, “Is my sore throat strep CDC” and get this relevant article as your first response.
It’s important not to trust everything you read online, though, Dr. Oliva reminds you. “Regardless of which sickness or symptoms you think you have, your physician is the authority you should trust,” Dr. Oliva says.
Your doctor can separate fact from myth and help you make sense of something you may have read or researched online.
Learn Common Medical Terms
Though doctors try to be clear, it can be difficult to understand medical terms. Making sure you truly understand what’s being said is as important to them as it is to you.
Getting the most out of your visit may mean brushing up on your vocabulary. Doctors use these words every day, so it’s easy for them to assume you know what they mean. Here are a few of the most common:
- Acute: a condition that happens quickly and needs quick attention, like a heart attack
- Benign: not cancerous
- Chronic: a condition that takes a long time to develop, like diabetes and asthma
- Malignant: cancerous cells that can spread to other parts of the body
“If you have to ask what a word means, don’t be embarrassed,” Dr. Oliva says. After all, it’s your doctor’s job to explain your health to you in ways you understand — during Health Literacy Month and every day of the year.
Talk Through Each Part of Your Treatment Plan
Make sure you ask your most important questions first. Some of your most burning questions are likely to be about your treatment plan.
“Your treatment plan is your roadmap to improving your health,” Dr. Oliva explains. “Your doctor crafts this plan with your specific needs in mind.”
Your treatment plan includes information on what illness you may have. It also describes both what your doctor will do (like prescribe medicine to you) and what you will do, like change your diet.
If your treatment plan is complicated, ask for it to be written down, step by step. “The better you understand your health care plan, the better equipped you’ll be to follow through on it every day,” Dr. Oliva says.
At the end of the day, understanding your treatment plan is essential because most of your health is determined by what happens outside of the doctor’s office.
If you have more questions or are confused after you leave, call your doctor’s office; they may even have a nurse line you can call for immediate answers.
Your Partner in Lifelong Health
When you’re healthy and well, you can take steps to boost your long-term well-being. AdventHealth is here to empower you to achieve whole-person health, because you deserve to thrive in body, mind and spirit.