Patients Can Be Their Own Best Advocate

Armen Hareyan's picture

Patients health care advocates

Innovative technology, new medications and a host of websites devoted to consumer health information have both helped and hindered patients when they visit their doctor. There are, however, simple steps that can be taken to better the next physician visit and help patients become their best health care advocates, according to a physician who specializes in patient and physician advocacy.

"Health care has become increasingly complicated," said Michael Cuffe, M.D., vice president of medical affairs at Duke University Health System. "Today, the numbers of drugs, the options, and the cost of care are much more complicated than even ten years ago. That also means it takes more time and it's more complicated to describe options and address concerns the patient may have. All of this coincides with more health information available in the consumer marketplace."

Television reflects this, Cuffe pointed out. "In classic TV shows of the 60s and 70s, doctors were portrayed as all-knowing and very paternalistic, and patients rarely questioned their doctor's advice. Medicine was much simpler then."


Simpler, but tougher on patients who couldn't get access to pertinent health information the way they can today.

"We want patients to be informed consumers. We now have healthcare spending accounts where people are expected to pick their preventive care, select aspects of their care, and also to be educated about all the costs involved," Cuffe added. "So the demands on the physician-patient interaction are probably greater now than they have ever been before."

There are several ways to maximize the effectiveness of a doctor's visit, he said. The steps require a small amount of planning and organizing, but should reap dividends in a greater understanding of the health concerns.

Cuffe advised: