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Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Follow doctors’ orders to cure care concerns

February 7, 2007

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Sure, you love your doctors. But your visits to them might be more rushed that you realize, and you might not be following their instructions as well as you think you are.

Those are some of the results we found when we surveyed more than 39,090 subscribers last year about their doctor visits. The overwhelming majority of patients said they were highly satisfied with their physicians. These are among the highest ratings of any services we've evaluated.

But they're also in contrast to what many physicians think of their patients - at least in terms of the patients following their doctors' orders. According to a separate survey of 335 primary-care physicians drawn randomly from a national panel, 59 percent of doctors said their patients often fail to adhere to the prescribed course of treatment. Patient adherence ranked first among the troublesome patient behaviors we asked doctors about.

Whose perspective is clearer? A vast body of scientific evidence says the doctors are closer to the mark. Studies show that as many as 75 percent of patients fail to take medications as prescribed, for reasons including forgetfulness and lack of explanation from the doctor of the medication's benefits and side effects. About half of patients stop taking any given medication within one year. Some never fill the prescription in the first place.

Toward better care

Our surveys also found that 41 percent of doctors were bugged by patients who wait too long before making an appointment, and that 24 percent of patients were irked by doctors who kept them waiting 30 minutes or longer for an appointment.

To help make your relationship with your physician the best it can be and to keep you healthy, we merged our survey findings with information from other sources to develop a guide to getting better care. Here are some excerpts from that guide, including steps you can take before, during, and after your visit:

¢ Research carefully. If you research your condition online, as almost 40 percent of our patient respondents did, assess the site's credibility before relying on the information. Two free sites you can trust are MayoClinic.com (www.mayoclinic.com) and the National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov). Both rated excellent for reliability and quality of information in a review by Consumer Reports WebWatch - a project of Consumers Union (our nonprofit publisher) and the Health Improvement Institute.

¢ Don't go alone. Of all the patient behaviors we asked about, taking a friend, spouse, or other family member along to an appointment most strongly correlated with overall satisfaction with one's doctor. A second party can review with you ahead of time what you want to get out of the visit, remind you to bring up things you might have forgotten, and add information and create a more interactive dialogue with the physician.

¢ Make a change. Seven percent of subscriber respondents said they had switched doctors. Their top reasons for doing so include feeling rushed during visits and feeling that the doctor didn't listen. If it takes you too long to get an appointment, look for a practice that offers open-access scheduling, in which doctors typically leave part of each day's schedule open so that they can handle same-day appointments. If your visits feel rushed, look for doctors who encourage e-mail communication to address non-emergency matters.

Take your medicine

And to address doctors' biggest gripe about patients: Take prescribed medications exactly as instructed. Don't stop any medication - even if it's causing side effects - without consulting your physician. Strategies that may help you stick to your drug regimen - especially if you take multiple drugs - include keeping a written schedule posted prominently in your home and using pre-filled pillboxes.

- Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at www.consumerreports.org.

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