Health Hacks

How to be an empowered patient. Hint: It's OK to say no

Mary Jane Hampton, who has spent years working to reform health care in Nova Scotia, is sharing simple tips and tricks for finding your way through the complicated health-care system.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her health hacks with CBC's Information Morning

Mary Jane Hampton suggests asking five simple questions to your health-care provider before you take any test. (Robert Short/CBC)

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton was taken aback by a question someone posed to her recently: "Do you still have hope that there's anything we can do to salvage health care?"

Hampton's response was that if Nova Scotia can spend $4 billion on health services and people still feel hopeless, then it's time to change the conversation.

"We need to give the power back to the patients who paid for this thing, and who are the ones who this so-called health system should be in the business of helping," Hampton told CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia.

Our healthcare columnist Mary Jane Hampton passes on some lessons that might make your medical experience better. 8:48

Hampton, who has spent years working to reform health care in Nova Scotia, now finds herself in the middle of it, helping her own aging parents navigate an oftentimes disjointed system.

"That feeling of being totally disempowered is one of the most humbling and terrifying feelings that an individual can have," she said.

That's why her first health hack is for patients and caregivers to take control.

Hampton says many tests aren't needed, but they're done because a doctor is afraid of medical liability or a patient insists on it. (Benchamat/Shutterstock)

The first way patients can feel more empowered is to ask questions.

There's overwhelming evidence many tests aren't really needed, from blood work to X-rays and CT scans, said Hampton.

So, why do they happen?

Hampton said it can be that doctors are afraid they'll miss something and be on the hook legally. Other times patients  insist on a certain test and doctors agree just to appease them.

5 questions to ask before you take a test

Before agreeing to yet another test, Hampton suggests asking your health-care provider these five questions:

  1. Why do I need the test?
  2. Is there an alternative to doing this test?
  3. Will the test results actually change any decisions about how we're going to care for the condition I have?
  4. When can we expect the results back from the test and what will we do?
  5. What if we do nothing?

If you don't feel confident the test is the right thing to do after asking these questions, Hampton said you should just say no.

That doesn't mean you'll never have that test. If you have a good relationship with your health-care provider, you can always bring up the conversation again.

"But being confident just to have that conversation is something most patients don't feel equipped with, and that confidence as a patient is the first step that I believe you need in order to have a good experience through the health system," said Hampton.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia