We received many great responses to our Health IQ contest. Our editors have read the entries and selected two winners. We hope their experiences inspire others to be more careful about understanding how to follow medical instructions.
Both winners correctly answered these five questions:
- You are told "avoid all food or drink after midnight" before having an x-ray. When is the last time you should eat or drink prior to the test? Answer: Midnight or before.
- "Take one tablet by mouth three times a day." If you take your first tablet at 7 a.m., when should you take the next one? Answer: About 8 hours later.
- "Give your child Tylenol for a fever." If you don’t have any acetaminophen (Tylenol), will a plain old aspirin do the trick? Answer: No. Young children should not take aspirin.
- "For external use only." If these words are on your prescription label, what do you do with this medicine? Answer: You should use this medicine only on your skin/hair/nails.
- You missed taking your daily medicine for 2 consecutive days… should you make up your doses by taking three times the amount you are supposed to take on the 3rd day? Answer: No. You should call your doctor or take only that day’s dosage.
Marie H. tells us about how we sometimes need to ask the doctor to clarify some instructions:
"After the birth of one of my children, my doctor gave me some pain medication, which he said I could take ‘as needed’ whenever I was in pain. I tried to do a little too much my second day home from the hospital, so I took the minimum dosage to help relive the pain. An hour later the pain had subsided a little, but not completely. I was confused about how soon I could take the medication, and about how much of the medication I should take to help relieve the pain. So, I called my doctor’s office and got more information. I found out that I should only take the medication ‘once every 4 hours, as needed, for pain.’ I also learned how much I could safely increase the dosage amount, in order to get more pain relief. As a result, I felt more comfortable and confident taking the medication when I needed it."
Martha R. writes about making sure you thoroughly understand medical instructions:
"Unfortunately it seems this is one of the lessons folks learn the hard way, and my family is no exception. This became important to us after my husband was given an electrotherapy device by the pain management clinic doctor. There were a lot of instructions and unfortunately we thought we knew what to do, but at 3 a.m. we were both awoken by our dog yelping in pain. One of the contact stickers had come off of my husband and attached to the dog, who didn't appreciate the ‘shock.’ We missed the part about ‘don't use this device when you're sleeping.’ Although it makes you feel a bit silly, we now make sure that we can repeat back all of a doctor’s medical instructions, and either ask for them in writing or take notes while we are in the office -- to make sure that we really heard everything they said. The medical folks don't mind, and the dog certainly appreciates it!"
More reader advice:
We received many great stories from other contestants. Here are a few we’d like to share.
Have someone with you at your appointment:
- Sometimes, it helps to have a family member, friend, or a patient advocate or case manager present when you receive medical instructions: "I have been confused by instructions to take lab tests prior to an x-ray. I never know whether to take the lab test on the date of the exam or anytime before the x-ray."
- Another contestant wrote that, after being discharged following surgery, she had trouble remembering when to add ice to their surgical site, and for how long: "It was quite possible that it was explained fully to me at the time, but I was not perfectly alert and probably missed this part of the discharge instructions. I should have had someone with me to listen to the instructions. That certainly would have helped."
Bring a list of your questions and concerns:
- One way to better understand medical instructions is to be prepared with questions before you visit the doctor: "After years of coming out of the office trying to remember everything I was told, I finally came up with a solution that helps me. Now, I go in with written questions and concerns. I also record information and dates that I think the doctor might need. When I'm waiting for the doctor to arrive, I review my notes. During the visit, I'll jot down what I need to remember and, while the doctor is making his own notes, I review mine to make sure everything has been covered to my understanding. And lastly, when I'm back in the waiting room, I'll sit down and review everything before I leave. This way I am able to remember and comprehend more information and, best yet, I have a history of my visit."
You can always track a written history of your doctor’s instructions in the Personal Health Record located right here in your health and benefits portal. Select the "Personal Health Record" option (if available) under the "My Info" menu above for more information.
Thanks to all who entered, and congratulations to the winners! Good luck to all in our next contest.