I spent part of this evening sitting in on a TwitterChat with a few doctors discussing alternative therapies and how patients choose to integrate them with "traditional" medicine. It was a good talk, and perhaps the biggest lesson taken away is this—TELL YOUR DOCTORS EVERYTHING YOU TAKE AND ALL ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES YOU ARE USING. Tell them not because they are nosy or think you're a bad patient or want to tell you to stop taking what you're taking or doing what you're doing but because they do indeed have medical degrees and may very well be more abreast of potential interactions than you.
How many patients really read and memorize those little leaflets the pharmacy hands out? (Yes, I know you did read that one, once, you swear...) Those leaflets have good information in them, but the print is tiny and we're busy. Maybe you read the leaflet the very first time you got the prescription. Maybe you had some time to kill over a bowl of cereal and the newspaper was in another room and so you read the leaflet. Did you understand every word in the leaflet? Did you make notes regarding things to ask your doctor about next time you meet? Did you see a caution not to take your medicine at certain times and with certain foods or supplements and make a concerted effort to make sure you were doing everything right? Probably not.
That's okay—sort of. As patients we should all take greater responsibility for our own healthcare and be more involved. Doctors can do wonderful things, but they're still human. They're not psychic. They need information from you. You need to be able to tell them about things that impact your healthcare—supplements and alternative therapies included, heck, supplements and alternative therapies especially included. Such things aren't prescribed and therefore often are not in the record system. Take St. John's Wort because you feel a bit down and are too embarrassed to talk to your doctor about it? Don't be. Your doctor needs to know. Have severe back pain that responds to massage? Your doctor needs to know, and at home exercises to limber up are cheaper than pills. Want to know more about Vitamins B and D? Ask your doctor not just about what they do but about how taking them would work with your other meds.
Doctors are tasked with moving through a full-roster of patients each day. With an aging population and people who refuse to do their part in taking care of their own bodies, doctors have an ever increasing load. Help them help you. Be prepared for your appointments. Communicate as clearly as possible. And if you're not getting the attention and answers you need, don't be afraid to say the following—Doctor, this is an important issue to me, and I would appreciate it if you would help me address my concerns; I am really depending on your help to figure out what's right for me.
And finally—make sure that when you're doing online research that rely on credible information. Jo-Jo's House of Medicine or Herbal Solutions "Backwards R" Us probably aren't the best place to go. That said, help educate yourself with the information contained in these links.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the Federal Government's lead agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The mission of NCCAM is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and alternative medicine interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
The MD Anderson Cancer Center Complementary/Integrative Medicine Education Resources (CIMER) Web site is dedicated to providing educational resources to health care professionals and patients regarding the current understanding of complementary medicine and, where appropriate, to assist in the integration of these medicines and therapies with conventional treatments.
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