In my opening remarks, I tried to bring patients to the realization that medical services are dispensed in an inefficient manner. This inefficiency is largely due to the fact that the US medical system is broken and sorely in need of reform. Reform of the medical system will not happen soon. Therefore, we patients must adapt to the current medical system by maximizing the benefits of the medical advice given. Only then can we be successful patients.

     Some of my friends who are medical doctors tell me that many patients are uneducated or unwilling to learn basic principles of the science of good health. These doctors have told me that many of their patients know more about their car than they know about their bodies. Anecdotal conversations with one physician revealed that some patients service their cars every 6 months but do not get physical exams at least once a year.

     The first step toward being a successful patient is to be proactive with your health. This requires patient preparation. As with every profession, the medical profession has its own vocabulary with which patients need some familiarity. This does not mean for the patient to run out and buy the latest edition of Gray’s Anatomy. It does mean however, a frequent use of the internet. For example, my dad thought he may have a hernia. He made an appointment with his primary care physician for the doctor to evaluate his discomfort. Before he went to the doctor, I went on the internet to learn: a) what is a hernia? ,b) what are the different types of hernias? ,c) what are the treatments for hernias? and d) this is important, what are the risks if I have a hernia but fail to correct it? Armed with this information, the doctor’s diagnosis and treatment made sense to my dad and our family. Remember, there is a waiting room full of patients that the doctor has to see. He or she has 15 minutes to explain the diagnosis, treatment and answer any questions you may have. Without proactive preparation as a patient, the doctor’s 15 minutes is merely a directive not a dialog.

     Just as car owners buy magazines and manuals for their cars to better understand what is under the hood, the successful patient needs to continue or begin their education so as to better understand “what is under his or her hood.” This does not require the successful patient to go back to school or to spend a lot of money. How can this be done? The modern hospitals have recognized that patient education is not only good business but increases satisfied patient outcomes and reduces malpractice litigation. One noted NYC hospital has introduced a no cost mini-medical school for anyone wanting to learn more about medical sciences. Lectures are given by medical school professors with materials given to medical school students. The focus of these lectures, however, is not to diagnose ailments but rather to educate patients about medical ailments and the medical jargon associated with the discussion. The author of this blog will be attending a 2 hour lecture next week on the possible pandemic associated with the bird flu.

     To reiterate, these lectures are not intended to preempt a doctor’s diagnosis or treatment of the flu. It is however, intended to educate the patient about: a) What is the bird flu? b) How is it transmitted? c) What are the treatments? and d) know what is fact and what is rumor. I will report next week on this blog about what is fact and what is fiction about the bird flu. Finally these lectures give the patient the vocabulary needed to comprehend the news, avoid the flu if possible and if necessary, seek and understand medical advice. This is the beginning prototype of the successful patient.