Medical Mistakes Busy Moms Make
Every day, you make dozens of decisions about your health that can impact your well-being, such as whether to tough out the flu or see the doctor; go for a power walk after work or watch TV; or take a medicine or skip it.
You do the best you can. But let’s face it—you’re juggling your own responsibilities along with your kid’s health, school stuff, home life, and sports activities. And your spouse and your parents are probably in the mix, too.
With so much going on, it’s easy to get distracted and make micro and macro judgment calls about your own healthcare that can do more harm than help. Where do you go wrong?
Here are some of the biggest medical mistakes multitasking women make (that’s you) that doctors wish they wouldn’t and what you can to do remedy the situation.
Medical Mishap: You’ve got an OB/GYN, but not a primary care doctor.
If you have a gynecologist, but not a primary care doctor (PCP), it’s time to go doctor shopping.
“Women should have both an OB/GYN and a PCP,” says Michael Roizen, M.D., co-author of You: The Smart Patient.
PCPs have broad-based medical knowledge and training in the prevention area.
“There are so many nuances in drug therapy and drug interactions that PCPs are expert in,” Roizen says.
If your blood pressure is creeping up, for example, your gynecologist shouldn’t be the one to write a prescription for blood pressure medication. You’ll also need a PCP to make sure you undergo age-appropriate screening tests. And if you should need a specialist, a PCP is invaluable for coordinating your care.
To-do tactic: To choose a PCP, interview two or three until you find one you’re compatible with.
Clues a doctor is right for you: The waiting room has patients similar to your age and the doctor isn’t near retirement (a sign that she won’t be able to care for you long term). She’s also up to date on what’s likely to happen to you.
“If you have a family history of heart disease, for example, you want a physician who focuses on heart disease prevention,” Roizen says.
Medical Mishap: You take your kids to well-child checkups like clockwork, but you haven’t seen a physician in years.
Sure, your kids come first. But you need regular checkups too, even if you feel fine. If you don’t have your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose tested regularly—preferably every five years if you’re in your 20s and 30s and otherwise healthy, and yearly after that—you don’t know if you’re at risk for a major condition, such as diabetes, heart attack, or stroke.
“Denial can be deadly,” says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., a cardiologist in New York City.
To-do tactic: Stay on top of your own health. Schedule a physical every five years if you’re healthy and under 40 so you know where you are in terms of blood pressure (goal: less than 120/80), total cholesterol (less than 200), LDL or “bad” cholesterol (less than 70 to 160, depending on your heart disease risk), HDL or “good” cholesterol (50 or higher for women), triglycerides (less than 150), fasting blood glucose (less than 100), body mass index (less than 25), and waist circumference (35 inches or less for women).
If you’re over 40 or you’re younger but have a strong family history of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes or have had an abnormal mammogram, a breast biopsy, a history of an abnormal Pap test, or a history of an ovarian cyst, get a well-adult checkup every year. Depending on your situation, you could start with your internist or your gynecologist. Schedule your annual appointment near a memorable date, such as your birthday, so you don’t forget.
Medical mishap: You forget to get prescriptions filled but go to your follow-up appointment anyway.
“It’s a waste of time to go to your follow-up appointment if you haven’t even taken your medication in the first place,” says Margaret McKenzie, M.D., a physician with the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Institute.
That’s because the path to getting well is a process that often goes like this: You come in with symptoms; your doctor writes a prescription; you take the medication until your next appointment, at which point your doctor assesses if the medication is working and whether you’re getting better.
If you don’t get your prescription filled, you’ll still be at square one. Your symptoms will linger, your condition could worsen, and your doctor won’t have any new information to fine-tune your treatment plan.
To-do tactic: When you get a prescription, get to the pharmacy right away instead of letting it slide.
“Put ‘fill prescription’ at the top of your to-do list,” says McKenzie, who takes her own advice. “I write everything down. If it isn’t written down, it isn’t happening.”
Then take the medication as directed before going to your follow-up doctor’s visit.
Medical mishap: You downplay your symptoms or wait until the last minute to mention them.
Symptoms related to incontinence or sexuality, such as urine leakage or pain during intercourse or a decreased sex drive, are the big ones that patients often fail to bring up during medical appointments unless the doctor asks.
“Or they’ll mention these or other symptoms as they’re walking out the door of my office, and then a whole new visit starts,” says McKenzie.
Embarrassment is part of it, but again, so is just being busy.
“Women are multitasking so much that in the whirlwind of just getting to my office, they forget about their symptoms,” she says.
To-do tactic: To make the most of your next doctor’s visit, prepare by making a list of troublesome signs and symptoms and bring them up yourself, no matter how embarrassing or minor you think they are.
If you’re uncomfortable mentioning them, practice saying them out loud at home or in the car on the drive over, as in “I feel pain when I pee,” “I leak when I laugh,” or “my periods last forever.” When the doctor asks the reason for your visit, put it out there so you don’t miss an opportunity to get treatment.
Medical mishap: You don’t hear back about test results so you just assume they’re normal.
No news isn’t necessarily good news. Doctors are especially pressed for time these days, so things can fall through the cracks.
To-do tactic: Don’t let your doctor drop the ball. If you don’t hear from your doctor’s office when you thought you would after taking medical tests, it’s your responsibility to call the doctor or the doctor’s nurse to follow up.
“Just like in school, you’ve taken the test, so you deserve to get the grade to see how well you’ve done,” says cardiologist Dawn Calderon, D.O., F.A.C.C.
What’s a reasonable length of time to wait? For a Pap test, allow a month for turnover for lab results. For blood tests and X-rays, give it three days before dialing your doctor or your doctor’s nurse.
“You’re not bugging the doctor,” says McKenzie. “You’re helping her to stay on task and on time. Healthcare is a partnership.” BW