Following Doctor’s Orders: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truths

Social influences tell us that the doctor knows best.  Cultural norms tell us that a doctor is the only person who knows what’s wrong and how to fix it. This removes you, the patient, from the equation and steals away your power that can damage your mind and body.

In this post, we’ll look at the good, the bad, and the ugly truths of simply trying to follow the doctor’s orders.

Interestingly, most patients don’t follow a treatment plan because they either forget or misunderstand what the doctor tells them.

The Ugly Truth – Health Literacy

Healthy literacy affects your ability to:

  • Share your entire health and family history with providers
  • Utilize and effectively navigate the healthcare system, including finding the right doctor and services, as well as filling out forms and following a detailed treatment plan
  • Comprehend statistics of risks and probabilities
  • Gain the necessary skills for self-care management

Understanding your health is essential to getting better.  It’s impossible to create and follow a treatment plan if you don’t know how and you don’t understand the risks, benefits, and alternatives available to you.

According to National Assessment of Adult Literacy, only approximately 12% of adults have proficient health literacy.  Low health literacy is an ugly truth because it’s an easy fix, and yet it continues to get worse.

The Bad Truth – Careless Doctoring

Public health educators are primarily responsible for the health literacy of the nation; however, every doctor is part of the process and needs to be able to effectively communicate with patients and family.

Physicians often erroneously assume their patients are following a treatment plan that may not be working for them.  Inappropriately following medication instructions and preventive measures lead to health risks and suboptimal outcomes.

There are three parts to the solution:

  1. Improve provider communication
  2. Have an educator follow up/clarify with the patient before they leave the office
  3. Check in with the patient monthly until they’re well on their way and feel comfortable asking questions

The Good Truth – There’s Hope

It starts at the beginning: with you.  The doctor sees you and cares for you maybe 10% of the time.  Everything else is up to you.  If your migraines are getting worse over the years, or if you’re developing new and debilitating symptoms, then it’s time for you to do more.

Here are some tips to help you increase your health literacy and move into a treatment plan that is designed to help make you better:

  • Read and watch articles, images, and videos about the conditions and how they affect the body.
  • Be honest with your provider about your past and what you don’t understand.
  • Question everything!
  • Don’t make hasty decisions. Sit with the doctor’s orders for a while, discuss it with family, ask questions online, and make sure you understand every option available to you.
  • Remember that pharmaceuticals should only be used temporarily unless there are dire circumstances.
  • Follow doctors and healthcare professionals who educate on social media. When you find a good blog, look for the social icons.
  • Find Dr. Right.

Do you have high or advanced health literacy, but you know someone whose health is declining because of literacy issues?  Then, it’s time to step in. Here are some tips to help others increase their health literacy:

  • Be gentle and subtle; many people feel ashamed at their lack of health knowledge and are struggling to stay above water
  • Offer to go to a doctor’s appointment with them and stand as a translator
  • Ask if you could help review their list of medications or treatments
  • Help them smile and laugh, reminding them of the good things

Most of us have a burning desire to see a healthier, better world, but many don’t know how to get there.  Improving your health literacy and helping someone else engage in their health care will lead your community through monumental strides in creating a healing culture.


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