Excerpt from Ourselves, Growing Older, by Paula Doress-Worters and Diana Laskin Siegal, in cooperation with The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

Cover of "Ourselves Growing Older"Talk to many other women about individual doctors and clinics. In choosing a doctor consider also the hospital at which the doctor practices. Contact women’s groups or consumer groups to get more information about costs, attitudes, and medical competence of a number of practitioners and clinics. See the Directory of Medical Specialists in your local library or at your local medical society for the doctor’s training history and qualifications. Check the medical society or the state board that licenses physicians for complaints against the doctor you are considering. Review your rights as a patient.

During your visit

Know your own and your family’s medical history. If possible, bring a written record of your own. If you have a problem, write down when it began, symptoms, etc. Write down any questions that you want to ask.

Bring a friend with you.

Firmly ask the practitioner to explain your problem, tests, treatment, and drugs in a clear and understandable fashion.

Take notes or ask your friend to do so. (A tape recorder, if you have or can borrow one, will help in case of long, complicated explanations.) Such record keeping can be invaluable, so try to be assertive even if your doctor reacts defensively.

Ask the doctor to prescribe drugs by their generic rather than their brand names (for example, aspirin, not Bayer). This will save you money.

Talk to nurses and assistants as they are often sources of valuable information and support and may explain things better than the doctor.

Ask for a written summary of your visit and any lab tests and x rays.

Remember, you have a right to a second opinion. If a series of expensive tests or surgery is recommended, you can tell the doctor to wait until you consult another doctor. This may prevent unnecessary procedures and treatment.

Don’t forget—it’s your body and your life. You have a right to make decisions about tests drugs, and treatments.

After your Visit

After the visit, write down and accurate account of what happened. Be sure you know the name of the doctor and others involved, the date, the place, etc. Discuss your options with someone close to you.

“Shop” drugstores, too. Drugstores in poorer neighborhoods may charge more than those in middle-class neighborhoods. Ask to see the pharmacist’s package inserts listing medical indications and contraindications. Some drugstores will keep track of all your prescriptions and will check for harmful drug interactions.

Have the name of the drug and clear instructions written on the label because of the risk to others who may take it in error and also because when traveling abroad you may be challenged for possession of pills.

If you get poor treatment, if you are given the wrong drugs, if you are not listened to, it is important for your own care and that of other women that you protest. Then write a letter describing the incident to one or several of the following:

  • The doctor involved
  • The doctor who referred you
  • The administrator or director of the clinic or hospital
  • The director of community relations of the clinic or hospital
  • The local medical society
  • The state board that licenses physicians
  • The organization that will pay for your visit or treatment (for example, your union, your insurance plan, or Medicare)
  • Community agencies, councils, or boards
  • The local health department
  • Local women’s groups, women’s centers, newspapers

To complain about a hospital or other health-care facility, contact one of the following:

  • Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, One Renaissance Boulevard, Oakbrook, IL 60181
  • American Hospital Association, 840 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60611

It is hard for one woman to work alone; however, health-care consumers can work together to get the treatment and services that they need.

Excerpt from “Ourselves, Growing Older,” by Paula Doress-Worters and Diana Laskin Siegal, in cooperation with The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster: 1994

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