Physician Co-Authors New Book Encouraging Patients To Become Partners
With Their Doctors
returned from a trip to Mexico with a case of 'traveler's diarrhea'
and other questionable symptoms. How did this happen? You were careful
to microwave the water you drank and even the water you used to brush
your teeth. Feeling nauseous, you try and make a same-day appointment
with your doctor, but you can't be seen until next Thursday. You've
never liked that office anyway. They can't seem to decide if you really
have high blood pressure and your physician never fully explains any
diagnosis or treatment. You take your frustration to the bookstore to
look for a consumer health guide to find some answers.
A new book co-authored by
Emory University physician Neil Shulman, M.D. may be just what this
doctor ordered. Dr. Shulman is trying to roll back a tide of "medical
illiteracy" with his latest book, Your Body, Your Health (Prometheus
Books, Amherst), to be released in September 2002.
Along with local Atlanta
physician and co-author Rowena Sobczyk, M.D., Dr. Shulman advises consumers
on how to get the most out of a doctor's visit by managing their own
health and taking a proactive stance to help doctors give them the best
"We are a nation of medical
illiterates," Dr. Shulman says. "Hopefully this book is a stepping stone
toward giving consumers and educators the basics of medical literacy."
Dr. Shulman believes the
country's health care system could be significantly improved if medical
courses weren't just offered to those pursuing degrees in the health
care field. While heart disease, diabetes and obesity are at epidemic
levels in the Unites States, the basic preventive measures relating
to nutrition are given a back seat in school curriculum, he says.
"Reading, writing, and arithmetic
are important, however learning the basics of preventive health, medical
screening, common diseases, and the logical steps a doctor uses when
evaluating you is just as important. If you're not alive, reading, writing
and arithmetic won't do you much good."
Drs. Shulman and Sobczyk
also encourage consumers to become partners with their doctors. Dr.
Sobczyk advises patients to have the same relationship with their doctors
that they have with their car mechanics.
"When you go to the doctor,
you're servicing your body," Dr. Sobczyk says. "If they tell you they
need to do certain work on your car, you ask why. You ask if there are
other options and if you're skeptical about their diagnosis, you take
your car someplace else. In the same way, people need to be proactive
with their health. They need to talk to their doctors instead of going
in and taking blind advice. People need to know more about any treatment
that their doctor prescribes and whether they have any other options.
After all, it's your health and you only have one body."
Dr. Shulman agrees.
"I don't think that Americans
should just present their body to their doctor and say ‘fix me.' You
are with your body all the time," Dr. Shulman says. "You know your body
better than anybody else. If you were medically literate and if you
understood the basics of how to communicate with your doctor, then you
would be able to partner with your doctor in helping him or her figure
out what the problem is and how best to treat you."
The user-friendly guide also
includes illustrations, a guide to health sources on the Internet, and
a glossary of medical terms, tests and procedures.
Your Body, Your Health
informs you that just because you nuked your water in Mexico doesn't
mean it was safe. Microwaves don't kill bacteria. It takes sustained
high temperatures to kill germs (p.145). And even though your doctor's
office may not like it, you're going to try walking in without an appointment.
If you arrive 30-40 minutes before it closes for lunch, you may get
squeezed in before the lunch break. If not, you'll most likely be seen
in the early afternoon session. No office likes to have an obviously
ill patient sitting for hours in the waiting room (p.27). But this time
you'll make sure your arm is horizontal and supported at mid-chest level
when they check your blood pressure. If the cuff placed on your arm
is below the level of your heart when your blood pressure is measured,
it can result in erroneously high pressures (p.31).