Are You a “Good Patient”?

I often hear this statement from new clients that I start working with.  I have concerns with my doctor but I don’t want to bring them up because “I want to be a good patient”. Working as a healthcare provider myself for 15 years, I was surprised when I first heard this in my first year working as a private patient advocate. Fast forward several years later, the statement has become all too frequently heard.

What exactly is considered a “Good Patient” and why do you need to be one? What are the benefits and disadvantages of being a good patient?

What is a “Good Patient”

There seems to be this stigma or widespread misconception that a “Good Patient”  possesses the following qualities and characteristics:

  • Never misses or questions reasons for appointments. Even if they are unsure why they are going to an appointment;
  • Fills and prescriptions and takes all medications, even when not being fully aware of the; reason for taking, potential interactions, side-effects, contraindications, or cost;
  • Agrees and follows all management and treatment plans despite knowing or understanding if their insurance will cover it or if there is a more cost-effective alternative;
  • NEVER asks questions during an appointment;
  • NEVER asks a question before an appointment;
  • NEVER asks questions after an appointment;
  • Doesn’t bother the office staff with questions or concerns;
  • Did I mention, NEVER askss questions; and
  • Never consider second bringing up seecond opinions, fearful of offending the doctor.

Why be a “Good” Patient Advocate?

So what are the perceived benefits of being a “good patient”? Many believe that being a good patient will lead to better patient care. There is a fear that if you are not a quote, “good patient”, then you will not receive the proper care. For example, many believe if they choose to get a second opinion, that their healthcare provider will be offended or upset and not want to treat them anymore. I have a current client who is undergoing treatment for a rare cancer. Recently his oncologist had called and said he was changing his chemotherapy drug. I asked my client, did the oncologist mention why he changed it or why he thinks this treatment may work better? My client responded, “ I can’t ask him that. He will think that I am questioning his judgment and expertise.”

We then discussed how it is very important to understand why you are getting certain treatment, and it is okay to ask questions.

These are valid concerns from a patient or family member’s perspective. However, the stigma of what a “good patient” is is not appropriate. It is so essential to build and maintain a trusting relationship with your healthcare providers and the rest of your care team. If you feel that your doctor or other healthcare provider is offended if you ask a question or even a second opinion, then perhaps that is not the best person to be part of your care team. 

You, as the patient, are also part of your care team. Therefore you do have the right to ask any questions and be involved. Taking control of your health will assist you with being more invested in your health and feeling more confident in your decisions, care, and management.

Redefining a “Good Patient” 

Let’s change the definition of what a good patient is. A good patient:

  • Becomes an active member of the care team;
  • Adequately prepares for medical appointments by writing down questions beforehand. This will save time for both you and your provider and make your visits more efficient and beneficial;
  • Always arrives to appointments on time;
  • Takes notes during appointments;
  • Maintains well-organized medical records;
  • Maintains a good understanding of their insurance coverage benefits;
  • Always asks questions for clarification or when new questions arise
  • Expresses worries or concerns with the healthcare team;
  • Feels confident communicating with office staff and medical providers; and
  • Is comfortable obtaining second opinions

Pathway Patient Advocates can assist you with getting the best out of your healthcare and making each interaction with your care team efficient. When you become active in your healthcare experience, you tend to understand things a whole lot better!