Consumer Reports asks doctors how patients can help themselves

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 9:59 AM

As the health-care overhaul law takes effect over the next several years, some 32 million newly insured Americans will gain access to a regular doctor. They will learn what others already know: Getting the best care from your doctor requires navigating a complex relationship within the 20 or so minutes allotted for the typical office visit.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center recently surveyed 660 primary-care physicians who had a lot to say about their professional challenges - and about what patients could do to get the most out of their relationship with their doctors. Some highlights:

As the health-care overhaul law takes effect over the next several years, some 32 million newly insured Americans will gain access to a regular doctor. They will learn what others already know: Getting the best care from your doctor requires navigating a complex relationship within the 20 or so minutes allotted for the typical office visit.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center recently surveyed 660 primary-care physicians about their professional challenges and about what patients could do to get the most out of their relationship with their doctors. Some highlights:

- Physicians take the long view. Doctors said that forming a long-term relationship with a primary-care physician is the most important thing a patient can do to obtain better medical care, with 76 percent saying it would help "very much."

- Respect is a two-way street. Being respectful and courteous toward your physician was the No. 2 thing doctors said patients could do to get better care; 61 percent said it would help "very much." But 70 percent said that since they had started practicing medicine, respect and appreciation from patients had gotten "a little" or "much" worse.

- Please take your medicine. Noncompliance with advice or treatment recommendations was doctors' top complaint. Most said it affected their ability to provide optimal care; 37 percent said it did so "a lot."

- Pain is tough to treat. Doctors were hard on themselves when it came to judging their ability to minimize the pain, discomfort or disability caused by a condition. Only 37 percent thought they were "very" effective; another 60 percent thought they were "somewhat" effective.

- It helps to keep track yourself. Slowly but surely, primary-care doctors are switching over to electronic medical records. Thirty-seven percent said they keep their records electronically only, compared with just 24 percent who did so in 2007. But they want you to know that it still pays to keep track of your medical history yourself. Eighty-nine percent said that keeping an informal log of treatments, drugs, changes in condition, notes from previous doctor visits, and tests and procedures could be helpful.

- Research online, but carefully. Doctors are not convinced that online research is helpful, to put it mildly. Almost half said online research helps very little or not at all, and just 8 percent thought it was very helpful.

Instead of starting by entering the name of your condition in a search-engine box, try going directly to reliable sites. ConsumerReportsHealth.org reviews impartial evidence and takes no advertising (but some of its content is available only to paying subscribers). Government sites are also helpful. Try these:

- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information on infectious diseases, travel health and preventive care.

- Food and Drug Administration

- MedlinePlus for information about conditions and diseases.

- National Cancer Institute

Also recommended are the sites of such academic treatment centers as the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic .

(c) Copyright 2011. Consumers Union of United States Inc.


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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