Experts suggest bringing someone with you to medical visits

Dr. Spencer lives on Merritt Island.

Dr. Angela Spencer of Merritt Island wants everyone to take a friend or relative with them to medical appointments to ensure they hear and understand all instructions.

“Often, patients are in a stressful situation, especially if there is a negative diagnosis. The patient goes, ‘oh, my God, I have cancer,’ and then they don’t hear another word,” she said.

On a good day, patients retain about half what is said in a practitioner’s office, said Cindy Brach, a senior healthcare researcher at the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

“If the patient is scared, tired or not feeling well, their ability to retain what was said drops dramatically,” she said. “We all are at risk of misunderstanding.” 

Brach said a trusted medical advocate provides someone to remind you of your questions, helps process information and reminds you of follow-up, such as medications.

“Having another person in the room will help you digest what’s said.” Brach suggests taking notes or using a smartphone to record the conversation. She also recommends that patients use the “teach-back method” of repeating what they heard to make sure it is correct. Visit ahrq.gov for more information.

Spencer, 77, a Transylvania, Romania, native who grew up in Hungary, came to America when she was 22. It was after her younger son graduated that she realized her dream of attending medical school. 

“I was the oldest in my class, the dinosaur,” she said. A decade later, she became a board-certified psychiatrist and neurologist with a specialty in strokes. From her own practice and after the misdiagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer, she published a novel “Community Hospital As Seen by a Woman Doctor.” 

She came to Weston for her medical training rotations following an internship in New Jersey. Spencer has worked periodically off and on at Palm Bay Hospital, beginning in 2006. She was a stroke specialist and has managed an Alzheimer’s clinic in Tallahassee. 

In 2014, at age 72, Spencer opened her own practice in Brevard County. When the viral pandemic restricted her, she retired and wrote her fourth book. 

Spencer had a chronic cough for years and saw “umpteen pulmonologists” who prescribed an inhaler and cough medicine. Neither helped. Repeated X-rays and tests revealed nothing. Acting as her own health advocate, she finally requested a PET scan, and in 2015, a physician biopsied a 11/2-inch lesion in her right lobe and diagnosed lung cancer, although she was a non-smoker. Her immediate surgery appears to be successful. 

Spencer’s fictionalized book describes arrogant physicians, hospital administrators who demand increased productivity, insurance officials who developed policies based on profit, and nurse-secretaries who decided whether her patient would be admitted. 

“Every story is true, unfortunately,” Spencer said.