And the one I absolutely have to recommend to everyone is The Patient’s Playbook: How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love by Leslie D. Michelson.
Michelson is not a physician, but has worked in the health management field for more than 30 years, helping individuals and companies navigate our crazy health care system.
Based on his experience, he has organized his book into three sections. Each chapter ends with a helpful “Quick Guide” of the most crucial information.
In the first section, How to Be Prepared, Michelson stresses the importance of having an effective partnership with your primary care doctor and keeping track of your personal health information.
I wish he had provided a little more helpful advice about finding a quality primary care physician, because that’s difficult to do. Especially if, like me, you have to keep changing your doctor because of health insurance changes!
He simply advises checking with your state’s medical board to make sure the doctor is licensed and there are no criminal or malpractice issues.
Related post: Need a new doctor?
He also advises collecting and organizing your medical records (including your family health history) and developing a support team of one or more people who are willing to help you in case of a health emergency.
Many patient safety experts recommend having a competent adult stay with you in the hospital to minimize the risk of medical errors.
Related post: Hospitals can be dangerous to your health
The second section is about being a better informed patient. He emphasizes what I’ve posted about many times: Overtreatment can be as dangerous as undertreatment. Our health care system racks up billions in wasted medical expenses. Unfortunately, the burden is frequently on the patient to say “No” to unnecessary and possibly harmful tests and treatments.
Related post: Choosing Wisely – Just say “No!”
Michelson encourages us to speak up and ask more questions. No one should undergo tests or treatments without really understanding what is being done and why. Many people are understandably nervous in hospitals and around doctors; that’s another good reason to have someone on your support team who is comfortable in a health care setting.
This section also has helpful links for finding information on physicians and specialists, medical conditions, treatments, diagnostic tests, and drugs, as well as how to navigate a trip to the emergency department (Emergency Room 101).
The last section, What to Do When Serious Illness Strikes, is all about avoiding medical mistakes. Five years ago my husband was a victim of a series of medical mistakes. Despite being a nurse and thinking myself knowledgeable about health care, I wish I could have read this book when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and before he underwent all the treatments.
One thing Michelson writes that I heartily agree with is that the more serious or invasive the treatment, the more time you should take to make sure the diagnosis is the right one.
This is crucial. I know how emotionally overwhelming this experience can be, and I hope this book gives you the confidence and courage to tell your doctor you’d like to get another opinion, and bestows on you the energy to do the research on your condition. Because that’s really what you need to do. Please understand that an incorrect diagnosis isn’t just inconvenient and frustrating—unnecessary treatment can seriously harm or even kill you.
Was my husband overtreated for his thyroid cancer? Very likely. We now believe he could have simply had part of his thyroid removed rather than the whole thing. But now he needs to take levothyroxine every day for the rest of his life. And he had avoidable complications during one of his surgeries, and almost died undergoing the subsequent I-131 treatment.
We definitely wished we had sought a second opinion and asked lots more questions along the way. If I had read this book before his diagnosis, I think we would have.