Credit: Cascades Photography
One of the biggest challenges of living with chronic illness is managing your health care appointments. So much depends on those few minutes you see your doctor or other health care provider. Ricky White’s new book Taking Charge: Making Your Healthcare Appointments Work for You aims to help you get better care by getting a handle on this part of the process. Uniquely qualified to offer this advice, Ricky has experience on both sides of the desk, having worked as a nurse and living with ankylosing spondylitis. Filled with helpful and tips from planning and goal setting, to building better relationships with your health care professionals, Taking Charge is a quick read that will serve you well every time you see your doctor, physical therapists, dietitians, and so on.
I recently spoke to Ricky about his background and the book.
HealthCentral (HC): Please tell us a little about yourself.
Ricky: I’m originally from England where I worked as a registered nurse, but moved to the U.S. in 2014. The most important thing to know about me is that I’m tired, constantly. By day I’m a stay-at-home dad to two energetic children (5 years old and 2 years old). By night, if I’m still awake, I like to write, code, and care for my Bonsai trees. I’m also a martial artist, and devote some of my time to teaching other students.
Oh, and I also have a type of autoimmune arthritis called: ankylosing spondylitis (also known as A.S.).
HC: What inspired you to write Taking Charge: Making Your Healthcare Appointments Work for You?
Ricky: Not long after my diagnosis, I found out that there was an online community for people with my condition. Over time I noticed that different people were having the same problems. I was hearing people say things like “my care isn’t coordinated,” “I always come out with more questions than I went in with,” “I don’t agree with my treatment plan,” or “I find appointments so stressful.”
It puzzled me at first, because I couldn’t relate to them at all. It wasn’t until much later down the line that I realized that I didn’t encounter the same barriers that others did, because of my unique position, being a patient and a health care professional. I decided to write down some of my knowledge to try and give something back to the community.
HC: You have experience on both sides of health care — as a nurse and now as a person living with chronic illness. How has that affected your perspective on how to approach your appointments in the health care system?
Ricky: Once I realized that my care was a two-way street, and I had to do some work too, I realized that I had an advantage over other patients. This became more profound when difficulties with my illness lead to me changing my career path and working in an office environment instead. Knowing what the other side of the desk is expecting, wanting to achieve, and how they are going to approach it, is a huge leg-up, and it helps you manage your appointments much more effectively.
HC: How can learning to manage your medical appointments lead to better care?
Ricky: Being able to make the most of your appointment means you’ll get more done. When you have a chronic illness, you will have more than one “thing” going on at once. They all can’t be dealt with in one appointment. So, making your appointments more efficient will help you achieve more. And with luck, it will allow more time for you to ask questions and get more informed about your condition and/or treatments.
Secondly, managing your appointment includes managing your relationship with your doctor (or other health care professional). It is important that you are both aware of each other’s goals and expectations. Letting your doctor get to know you will help you both work together to tailor your care to your needs.
HC: Please share your top three tips for making your health care appointments work.
Ricky: 1. Goals. Do you know your doctor’s goals? If not, ask. You can do everything you’re supposed to do, but if you and your doctor are going in different directions, then you’ll never achieve your own goals. Make sure you and your doctor are on the same page.
2. Keeping track of your medications can save a ton of time. The easy part is keeping track of what you take right now. But what of the one’s you’ve had before? Can you recall why you stopped a medication, how long you took it before you stopped taking it, or who prescribed it? This could be pertinent information in the future, especially if you change doctors for any reason. I have a free downloadable sheet on my website that you can print off and fill in.
3. Take a list of questions. If you struggle with remembering to ask everything you meant to, get nervous or anxious, or lack the confidence to speak up, then this one is for you. Writing a list of questions ahead of time not only saves time and helps you remember things, but it will empower you to speak up and ask the questions that are the most important to you. If you really struggle speaking up, you can simply hand them the list.
Taking Charge: Making Your Managing Healthcare Appointments Work for Youis available exclusively from Amazon.
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Lene’s new book isChronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness. She is also the author of.Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Painand7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, and the award-winning blogThe Seated View.