Turn Worries Into Words

Research shows that patients who speak up usually get better healthcare. How? Better outcomes happen when patients:
  • Ask more questions
  • Respectfully express concerns
  • Share vital information
Most of us express ourselves poorly, or don't express ourselves at all, we just don't speak up. When 150 patients were recently surveyed who had experienced problems or mistakes in their healthcare, fewer than half had stepped up to a crucial conversation at the moment it could have made the greatest difference.

Unfortunately, the times patients need to speak up most are also the times they usually feel the least equipped to do so - when they are worried, irritated or upset. The most common reason people keep quiet is that they worry about being seen as a "problem patient" or they fear that they will offend their caregiver. When patients do feel comfortable in asking questions, they often ask vague or indirect questions, with high hopes that their caregiver will read between the lines and somehow understand their true concern.

So, the next time you are a patient, what should you do? Set a goal now to speak up when it matters most and do so in a way that leads to better outcomes.

Here are five tips to make sure you get the best healthcare:

1. Listen: Listen to your emotions.
Your emotions are clues to your thoughts. When you feel worried or upset it's often a sign that you're uncomfortable with what's happening. This is the time to stop, slow down, and prepare to speak.

2. Lead: Take the lead.
Remember that you are the expert about what's happening inside of you. Realize that you have important information about your past experiences and your current symptoms that your medical professional desperately needs to make informed decisions. You are the expert. Don't assume the caregiver knows everything.

3. Respect: Show respect.
Don't worry about offending your doctor or nurse by speaking up. They won't be offended if you show respect for their expertise and professionalism. Before describing your concerns, start by affirming this respect. For example: "I'm grateful for your attention to me and want you to know that I value your experience and skill in treating me. I also have a concern that I would like to share with you." Then share the concern.

4. Report: Share the facts.
Caregivers have a hard time with vague statements like, "Are you sure that's right?" or accusations like "I don't like the way you are talking to me!" Stop and think about what's happening that is making you uncomfortable. Look for the concrete facts that will help the caregiver understand clearly what is bothering you. For example, "The last time I took this medication I was given a white tablet to take twice a day. This time it says four times a day and it's a yellow tablet. That has me worried."
5. Ask: End with a question.
Show once again you are interested in the professional's point of view by ending with a question. "Is this correct?" or "Why should I be worried about this?"