Let's face it, sometimes doctor visits can be intimidating—especially if you're suddenly experiencing a serious medical problem. Fear and uncertainty can get tangled up in our attempts to make calm, thoughtful decisions. And if you're receiving new information about a diagnosis, its prognosis, and treatment options—even the best notetaker in the world can find it's all a bit too much.
Being an empowered patient means knowing when it's time to bring in your back-up team. If you're seeing a specialist for the first time, if you're having an informational meeting about a treatment option, or if you're just someone who wants to get in and out of a doctor's office as quickly as possible, you'll get much better results when you ask a trusted companion to accompany you on your visits—someone who can take notes, ask questions, and provide information you may not be thinking of.
Research shows that when a friend or family member participates in doctor visits, we feel better about our care, we can discuss difficult topics, and we have a greater understanding of our physician's advice. According to a 2011 study, 77% of patients who brought a companion to appointments reported that they were more likely to understand their doctor's advice.
Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, as long as you do not object, your doctor may discuss your health information with you in front of others. If you wish, you can let your doctor know if there are matters that are too private to discuss in front of your advocate.
For advice on how to ask someone to be your quarterback—and ways to be the most effective quarterback for a loved one—see Chapter 4: “Develop a Support Team" in The Patient’s Playbook.