Starting with a new doctor on your treatment team can feel a little unsettling. Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind during the transition.
When treating bipolar, sometimes it may be necessary to get a second opinion or to change doctors. This month I am transitioning to a new psychiatrist for medication management. After being with my former doctor for over two years, I am switching because that doctor no longer accepts my insurance. You may have experienced this, too, at some point in your treatment. It’s frustrating and it feels like starting over. Here are some tips for working with someone new:
#1 Advocate for yourself.
You know yourself best, so speak up. Don’t be silent in your treatment. Just because a person is a medical doctor does not mean he or she knows you or your body or mind the way you do. You are your own best voice when it comes to stating how medications affect your physical body and mind. Don’t be afraid to be assertive and firm, while being respectful.
#2 Be honest.
If a medication scares you, hasn’t worked for you in the past, or has concerning possible side effects, talk to your doctor about it. Be honest about your concerns, your reservations, and medications or treatments that have worked for you or are working for you right now. Don’t feel ashamed or that you have to hide symptoms of your mental health conditions, or stay silent about how different medications or treatments affect you.
#3 Write out a list of questions or concerns in advance.
Having a list helps me remember to address all the different issues or questions I have with my doctor. Prepare a written list of your current medications and dosages. Include a list of previous medications or treatments and how they affected you. If it’s the first time meeting your doctor, consider writing out your story so you can include important events, places, people, and symptoms of your history with bipolar. Most of the time, doctors will ask about your mental health history at your first visit. Having that written out takes some of the anxiety away from having to remember all of it, and for having to share it again with a new person.
#4 Inform the doctor of your needs and who is on your support team.
Let the doctor know who is important in your care, who can help you during your treatment, and who is part of your support team. Share phone numbers or addresses or other ways to communicate with members of your support team. Sign releases of information to and from your support people, if you think it is necessary, for your doctor to be able to communicate with them about your care.
#5 Be involved.
Let your doctor know that you take your own mental health care seriously. Let your doctor know you want to be involved in your own treatment and be a part of your support team. Ask questions, write things down, listen carefully and critically. Show up to scheduled appointments on time, or if you need to cancel and reschedule, do so in the appropriate time frame. Come to your appointments prepared.
#6 Ask questions. This is your time.
You have the right to ask your doctor questions about his or her procedures, treatments, and medication options. Ask questions about particular medications offered to you and their possible side effects. Ask questions about other treatment options, or what you should do in a crisis or medical emergency. Ask questions, and write down the answers.
#7 Remember, you have a choice.
You have the right to choose your own doctor. You are the patient and can choose to go to a different doctor if something isn’t working and cannot be resolved. Sometimes insurance or location is a major factor in locating a doctor; however, you should never stay with a doctor who does not respect you, involve you in your own health care process, or listen to you. Doctors don’t always have to agree with you or do things the way you want, but they should always listen carefully to your experiences, feelings and emotions, and your symptoms. You can call your insurance provider or community mental health clinics or resources for lists of psychiatrists or doctors in your area and in your insurance network. Research their practices online. Read reviews if they are available. Trust your instincts. If your gut is telling you to find a new doctor, trust yourself.
Starting with a new doctor or starting over with a doctor for your bipolar or mental health treatment can produce a lot of stress and anxiety. But following the tips above can help minimize those feelings. Do what works for you. Trust yourself. Advocate for your mental health care.
Dave Wise is a blogger who lives with his wife and son in St. Louis, Missouri. Dave has bipolar disorder 1. He is living in recovery and blogs about his experiences and mental health journey, faith, and child loss as it relates to his mental health. Dave hopes to inspire others who struggle with bipolar disorder to live their best lives possible and have hope for the future. You can visit Dave's blog or follow him on Twitter.
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