Written by John Rehm, Nursing@Georgetown Online Community Manager
When it comes to your health, effective communication is key. In today’s health care environment, progress in science and technology is providing patients with new channels for education and the ability to receive care in a manner that better suits their needs. Patients are more equipped than ever to discuss their concerns with their health care providers—including ensuring the judicious use of antibiotics. Since antibiotic resistance is a growing public health concern worldwide—as noted in this infographic created by Nursing@Georgetown, an online FNP program—it should be an important part of patient-provider conversations. When patients are educated about antibiotic use and ask questions of their providers, they can play a key role in preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB).
Patients as Partners in Care
Although patients have the potential to be more empowered than ever, many are still worried about asking questions for fear of creating friction with healthcare providers. While that may occur in some instances, the reality is that relying on a “doctor-knows-best” mentality may not be in a patient’s best interest. In fact, with the many responsibilities that physicians and nurses must attend to, most would welcome specific questions from their patients that would help better guide their care.
These health care professionals are bombarded daily with tasks—including caring for multiple patients; maintaining records; creating safe environments in the presence of infectious diseases; communicating with other staff members; and much, much more. The point is, care providers have a lot going on behind the scenes. When a patient asks a simple clarifying question, it can help them provide the best care possible. In fact, many providers are eager to support patient empowerment—if given the opportunity to do so.
In addition to fear of creating friction, patients may hesitate to ask questions because they don’t feel adequately educated on a topic. They usually also don’t want to give the impression they’re questioning a provider’s training or experience. However, there are many individuals and organizations that support patient empowerment, offering resources for others.
In “17 Tips for Patient Engagement in 2017,” a recent article by the Patient Empowerment Network, advocates are highlighted who tell their own stories as patients. Jennifer Ahlstrom, a myeloma patient who founded several myeloma-focused initiatives says, “Don’t be afraid to speak up. Patients who ask their doctor questions, ask for explanations and treatment rationales, get better outcomes.” Marie Ennis-O’Connor, a breast-cancer survivor and Stanford Medicine X e-Patient scholar agrees: “Becoming an empowered patient means taking personal responsibility for your health. You engage with health care providers and systems in ways that are proactive, rather than reactive. You take positive steps in the direction of the care that is right for you.”
Questions You Should Ask
Based on recommendations from the CDC, here is a short list of questions to ask your health care provider to help avoid antibiotic resistance:
- Is my infection viral or bacterial?
- Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral illnesses.
- How do you know this is the correct antibiotic for my infection?
- Providers often order cultures to identify which antibiotic is best.
- What are possible side effects of taking antibiotics?
- All medications have side effects, and C. diff infection is a common and serious side effect of antibiotic use.
- How often and when should I take my antibiotics?
- Taking antibiotics exactly as prescribed is essential to preventing resistant organisms from developing.
- What are the dangers of using leftover antibiotics without a physician’s approval?
- Using leftover antibiotics contributes to the growth of resistant bacteria, among other hazards.
As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration emphasizes, there are some basic principles you should keep in mind when it comes to using antibiotics:
- Don’t ask a health care provider for an antibiotic to treat a virus.
- If you think you have a virus and are prescribed an antibiotic, question the need.
- If an antibiotic is prescribed, complete the full course of the drug and don’t skip doses.
- Don’t save antibiotics to use later.
- Don’t take antibiotics—or any medications—that have been prescribed for someone else.
- Always talk with your health care professional about all aspects of your care.
One of the most important things you can do to better care for your health is to empower yourself as a patient. This includes educating yourself on issues such as antibiotic resistance and proper use and then discussing your needs with your health care provider. It’s not only your right to ask—it’s also your responsibility as an equal partner.