Treating the whole person: 15 things your doctor should know about you

You are more than the sum of your diseases, so it's important to find a doctor willing to take care of the "whole you.”

Human beings are complicated, medications are becoming more complex and don't get me started on how difficult the health care system is to figure out!

As a transplant patient and also a care manager to an ailing mom and grandmother, I've had many turns personally at the other side of the stethoscope and this is what I've learned.

A good primary care doctor and clinic are worth their weight in gold... and probably even more. Consider this: according to the Centers for Disease Control, as of 2012, half of all adults had one or more chronic diseases. That’s 117 million people. One in four adults is dealing with two or more chronic conditions.

Today we live in a “take a pill,” “do a procedure,” “quicker fixer-upper” or “trade-it-in” kind of society. That doesn't work with chronic disease.

With chronic disease comes medications and potential drug interactions. Included with chronic disease are the diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain disorders, all of which decrease the patient’s quality of life.

There’s no quick fix for chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and obesity, to name a few. It takes a care plan built on trust, compassion, lifestyle modifications and listening.

It's easy for a doctor to see a patient, make a diagnosis, write a prescription, order a test, etc. It's an entirely different thing for the doctor to know if you:

>> can read

>> can afford your medication

>> can easily swallow pills

>> are allergic to penicillin

>> are claustrophobic for that MRI

>> understand your medications

>> are still grieving the loss of your spouse of 40 years

>> can truly hear what was said in the exam room or were just being polite when you repeatedly nodded in agreement

>> are near homelessness and unable to get any of your medications

>> just lost your job

>> drink too much

>> are not safe at home

>> can't read the medication bottles because you can't afford new glasses

>> are contemplating suicide

>> can’t take any action yet because you are paralyzed by the word "cancer.”

A doctor’s visit like that doesn’t last four minutes.

Instead a good doctor works closely with care coordinators and pharmacists to ensure that as your drug list becomes more complex as you age, your team has your back. Instead of just adding another medication to the list they rethink the entire drug list to make sure it’s the more effective combination for the "whole" you.

This approach can add more good years to your life and absolutely aligns with my personal beliefs and the reasons I went into medicine to begin with.

My suggestion to you is to find a doctor interested in the gold standard: treating the "whole" you!

By Dr. Joann Schaefer, chief medical officer and senior vice president at BCBSNE




The percentage of the bill you pay after your deductible has been met.


A fixed amount you pay when you get a covered health service.

Tiered benefit plan

A health care plan featuring multiple levels of benefits based on the network status of a particular provider. 


The annual amount you pay for covered health services before your insurance begins to pay.

emergency care services

Any covered services received in a hospital emergency room setting.


Includes behavioral health treatment, counseling, and psychotherapy

in-network provider

A provider contracted by your insurance company to accept an agreed upon payment for covered services. 

OUT-OF-network provider

A term for providers that aren’t contracting with your insurance company. (Your out-of-pocket costs will tend to be more expensive if you go to an out-of-network provider.)


Your expenses for medical care that aren’t reimbursed by insurance, including deductibles, coinsurance and co-payments.


If you can afford health insurance, but choose not to buy it, you must have a health coverage exemption or pay a tax penalty on your federal income tax return.


The amount you pay to your health insurance company each month. 

Preventive services

Health care services that focus on the prevention of disease and health maintenance.


Services and devices to help you recover if you are injured or have surgery. This includes physical, occupational and speech therapy.

special enrollment period

The time after the Open Enrollment Period when you can still purchase health insurance only if you have a qualifying life event (losing other health coverage, having a baby, getting married, moving).


A physician who has a majority of his or her practice in fields other than internal or general medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics or family practice.