Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


September 9, 2002

Book encourages patients to 'partner' with physicians

By Tia Webster

You’ve just returned from a trip to Mexico with a case of “Montezuma’s Revenge,” accompanied by 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; 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 coauthored by Emory physician Neil Shulman may be just what this doctor ordered. Shulman is trying to roll back a tide of “medical illiteracy” with his latest book, Your Body, Your Health (Prometheus Books, Amherst), released this month.

Along with Atlanta physician and coauthor Rowena Sobczyk, 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 possible care.

“We are a nation of medical illiterates,” Shulman said. “Hope-fully this book is a stepping-stone toward giving consumers and educators the basics of medical literacy.”

Shulman believes the country’s health care system could be significantly improved if medical courses weren’t offered only to those pursuing degrees in the health care field. While heart disease, diabetes and obesity are at epidemic levels in the United States, the basic preventive measures relating to nutrition are given a backseat in school curricula, he said.

“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,” Shulman said. “If you’re not alive, reading, writing and arithmetic won’t do you much good.”

Shulman and Sobczyk also encourage consumers to become partners with their doctors. 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,” Sobczyk said. “If [mechanics] 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,” she continued. “They need to talk to their doctors instead of going in and taking blind advice. People need to know more about any treatment their doctor prescribes and whether they have any other options. After all, it’s your health—and you only have one body.”

Shulman agreed. “I don’t think Americans should just present their body to their doctor and say, ‘Fix me,’” he said. “You are with your body all the time; you know it better than anybody else. If you were medically literate and 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 care resources on the Internet and a glossary of medical terms, tests and procedures.