Question: I have just been diagnosed with a serious condition. My daughter is insisting that she join me during consultations. I’m not someone who likes to lean on others. Do I really need to bring her? Will it annoy my doctor?
Leslie Michelson: As long as you trust and respect your daughter and her intentions, I highly recommend you bring her to your physician visits. During this time, you are going to be feeling your most vulnerable, and it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by the volume and intensity of medical information coming at you.
If you are dealing with a complicated health problem such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease or a chronic condition that requires sustained care and attention, having a helper at your side is crucial. Beyond the emotional and logistical support she can provide, numerous studies show that patients are more likely to understand and follow their physician’s advice and have improved communication with their doctor when a companion participates.
I sometimes refer to this person as a “health care quarterback.” A quarterback is often a family member, spouse, or friend. What matters most is that this is someone you trust, who is emotionally savvy, and possesses a methodical attention to detail (see The Patient’s Playbook Chapter 4: “Develop A Support Team” for more.)
In my experience, most physicians appreciate when you bring a companion along. Having an extra set of eyes and ears ensures that your doctor’s guidance and instructions are being heard. And your physician receives a fuller picture about your condition and symptoms when your advocate speaks up about things you may forget to mention.
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. It’s up to you to let your doctor know if there are matters that are too private to openly discuss.
In situations when you are simply having a routine physical, or a follow-up in which you are confident about your situation and know exactly what’s going on, then having a companion in the room may not make sense. But if you’re likely to be getting news about your condition, starting a treatment, or having an informational consultation, it’s tremendously helpful to have someone along who can take notes, ask thoughtful questions, and relay relevant medical details.
Having an astute quarterback on your side helps to protect you against medical error and coordination foul-ups. And it ensures that your entire medical “team” is moving forward toward the same health care goal: better results for you.
- A. Rosland et al., “Family and Friend Participation in Primary Care Visits of Patients with Diabetes or Heart Failure: Patient and Physician Determinants and Experiences,” Medical Care 49, no. 1 (January 2011): 37–45.
- L. M. Schilling et al., “The Third Person in the Room: Frequency, Role, and Influence of Companions During Primary Care Medical Encounters,” Journal of Family Practice 51, no. 8 (August 2002): 685–90.
- J. L. Wolff et al., “An Exploration of Patient And Family Engagement in Routine Primary Care Visits,” Health Expectations, October 29, 2012.
- “Family Members and Friends,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.