Your Health

Become your own health-care advocate

Some may call it Obama- care, but its official name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While there has been a lot of fuss made over it, it is now the law. And it is arguably the biggest overhaul of the American health-care system since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

States opened exchanges Oct. 1 to sell health policies to millions of previously uninsured Americans. Along with increased access to health care, the law also prevents Americans from being excluded from coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and coverage may no longer be rescinded because of health conditions. Young adults can stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26, and women cannot be charged more than men. With millions entering the health-care system and mandatory coverage for prevention and wellness services, it is safe to say that both providers and patients will feel the law’s effect.

Undoubtedly, the need for people to become their own health-care advocates will be even more critical. The responsibility for making medical decisions is now shared between provider and patient. The era of the authoritarian doctor who “knows best” is over. Being able to talk with one’s doctor is a cornerstone of successful health care and essential for making the best medical decisions.

Two new books on the shelves of Stanford Hospital Health Library can help patients understand and communicate with their doctors.

The first is “Get Inside Your Doctor’s Head: 10 Commonsense Rules for Making Better Decisions about Medical Care” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). As medical science becomes more complicated, it becomes more important for patients to understand what the doctor is saying and doing. Author Phillip K. Peterson, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota, offers insight into how doctors think about complex medical issues. He writes in plain language without using medical jargon, so the book is easy to understand.

The book is valuable for both patients and physicians. The 10 “rules” originally were written to help doctors make medical decisions, but Peterson realized that they were equally useful for laypeople. The rules can help patients weigh recommended diagnostic tests and treatments as well as improve doctor-patient communication. Rule 1: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do anything.”

The Internet has put medical information at our fingertips, but in many ways, this has made decision making more difficult. There is so much information out there that it can be daunting for the average person to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information. This little book turns common sense into 10 simple rules that empower patients to participate in their own health-care decisions.

“Talking to Your Doctor: A Patient’s Guide to Communication in the Exam Room and Beyond” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013) focuses on nurturing the “healthy conversation” between doctor and patient. Author Zackary Berger, M.D., believes that patient-provider relationships are at the core of health-care reform. Berger, a physician and professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, writes about the importance of communication in medicine.

“Talking to Your Doctor” teaches readers how to navigate a doctor’s office visit. Each chapter explores an aspect of patient care that may challenge effective communication. Berger gives valuable and practical suggestions to help patients overcome these challenges. Readers learn how to communicate when feeling intimidated, uncomfortable, undereducated, nervous or embarrassed. Among the subjects discussed are making the most of limited time in the exam room, telling your story and negotiating an agenda. The book teaches patients how to operate within the culture of the limited resources that permeate health care today.

Both books can be found on the shelves of Stanford Health Library. The main branch is located at Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road, Suite 201. Other branches are located on the first floor of Stanford Hospital and the main level of Stanford’s Cancer Center.

Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

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