The situation is a familiar one. You’re not feeling well, so you go to your doctor. You explain your symptoms and concerns. Then the doctor offers you their opinion about your condition, prescribes medication, or provides other treatment recommendations. You thank them for their time and leave the office with hopes of feeling better soon.
What’s missing in this scenario? Perhaps you weren’t listening closely when your doctor gave you feedback and you didn’t fully absorb or remember all of the information. After all, you weren’t feeling well, and maybe you were reluctant to ask the doctor to repeat or clarify the information.
As a result, you may have failed to completely carry out the health care instructions which are important for your recovery, such as diet or exercise routines. Or you may have taken the wrong dose of medicine or you forgot to attend an important follow-up appointment. And just what did those complicated medical terms the doctor used really mean?
This example highlights some of the many serious issues surrounding the concept of health literacy, which requires not only understanding health-related words, but also following health care instructions, taking medications appropriately and completing other necessary self-care behaviors to improve or maintain your health.
According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), only 12% of English-speaking adults in the US are proficient in health literacy. Additionally, over one-third of US adults have substantial difficulties in understanding and following health care instructions.
Ask Me 3
To address these concerns, the National Patient Safety Foundation and other health care advocacy groups have developed tools to help patients become engaged and involved in their health care and to help health care professionals communicate more effectively.
Studies have shown that if you understand your health care instructions better, you’re less likely to make mistakes such as medication errors and you will have a much better chance of overall improvement in your health status.
Ask Me 3 is one such educational program designed to improve communication between patients and health care providers, encourage patients to become more active members of their health care team, and promote improved health outcomes.
The Ask Me 3 program encourages patients to always ask their doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care providers three good questions:
1) What is my main problem?
This question gets at the issue of diagnosis. What is the nature of my primary health care problem? What are the symptoms and common features of this condition? What can I expect to experience? What is the typical long-range outlook for this condition?
2) What do I need to do?
This question addresses treatment concerns. Now that I understand my condition, what treatment recommendations are vital for me to carry out to improve my overall health status? What new routines, behaviors, or daily activities do I need to carry out?
3) Why is it important for me to do this?
This question focuses on the reasons for carrying out the health care instructions. What do the medications do to relieve my symptoms? How can changes in diet and physical activity help me feel better? What additional follow-up care or appointments will be needed?
Here are a few other helpful strategies to get the most out of your visit with your health care provider:
- Jot down questions before the appointment and bring them with you. In addition to the “Ask Me 3” questions, write down other important questions for your health care provider so you won’t forget them.
Whenever possible, bring a friend or family member to the appointment. They can support you and help you with the Ask Me 3 questions. Also, they can take notes for you so you don’t have to focus on remembering everything in detail. If you don’t have someone to come with you, at least take some brief notes during the appointment or ask the health care provider to give you a brief written summary of your health care instructions.
It’s important to ask your provider to explain any complicated health care terms you may not understand fully. For example, one man thought having “hypertension” meant he was hyper or nervous, and he didn’t appreciate this meant he had high blood pressure.
When you get home, review everything from the appointment, preferably with someone else. Organize the information into a useable format, such as a daily written schedule for your medications, sorting your medicine into a pill organizer, putting important follow-up appointments on your calendar, etc.
Don’t be afraid to call your health care provider if you have questions before your next appointment. In most cases, one of their staff can relay the question to the provider and get an answer back to you promptly.
Finally, if you are a health care provider, take time to familiarize yourself with the Ask Me 3 materials, including the guide to implement Ask Me 3 in your practice setting.
By using these strategies, you can become more involved in your health care, more fully understand your condition and its treatment, and take better care of your health. It’s really true that knowledge is power, so make sure you are well informed about your health to have the very best opportunity to take the necessary steps to stay healthy.
Here’s a question: What are the key questions you need to ask your health care provider about your health status? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!