Time was when your doctor’s prestige rating was somewhere between the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and God. Thanks in part to insurance companies and to the TV drama House MD — which reveals how weird a doctor can be even when he or she is right — that’s all changed. Don’t get us wrong. We’re not suggesting you invite your urologist or friendly family practitioner over for Sunday pancakes. On the other hand, we’re not suggesting you turn the good doctor into your adversary, either.
But do use forthright talk when you communicate with your doctor. Ask probing questions. Doctors tend to be busy. Also, some of them can get carried away with a billable-hour imperative. Ultimately it’s your health — and your life — that’s at stake. Don’t let yourself be thrown on the defensive just because the doctor seems to be in a rush. There’s nothing wrong with letting him know that you have another question, or that something’s not clear. If you wanted more perfunctory treatment, you would have gone to Skype for an online exam. (Just kidding! Still, if the insurance companies come to approve this, don’t discount the possibility.)
“Remember you are in charge… seek information and don’t be afraid to ask your questions.”
There’s no rule about the number of questions you should ask your doctor. As mayoclinic.org advises, “Remember you are in charge… seek information and don’t be afraid to ask your questions.” And be sure to write down your questions before you show up at the doctor’s office.
Here are 5 essential questions to get you off and running for your next doctor’s visit:
What exactly will this drug do for me (and) what are its side effects? — Don’t assume that just because your doctor prescribed a drug for you, it’s the best thing since canned beer. In a previous article about the FDA, we told you about three very widely prescribed drugs that were pulled from the market. You’re not looking to become a statistic. Besides, you want to be sure you can do your work and carry on your life without getting sleepy or developing headaches… or whatever symptom the prescribed drug might introduce to your body. Just remember, drugs do things for you, but they also do things to you.
Exactly why are you recommending this surgery? What will happen if I elect not to go with the surgery? How many times have you performed this procedure? — And you thought physicians only perform surgery that’s necessary. Think again. As one very sage ER doctor once told me, “there’s no such thing as minor surgery.” What a doctor will tell patients is that “we do this sort of thing all the time,” or “there’s very little risk with this procedure.” What he tells his peers on the racquetball court is “yeah, isn’t it amazing how you don’t know what’s there until you cut into the patient? X-rays don’t reveal everything, do they?”
Don’t kid yourself. There are all kinds of horror stories about surgeons leaving instruments or surgical sponges inside the patients after sewing them up. Anytime you accept anesthesia, or consent to having your respiration suspended, you’re taking a risk.
Would you please take my blood pressure again in ten minutes? This is an unusual reading for me. – Okay, this is more of a statement disguised as a question. But you have every right to
ask tell the physician to do this. Often, patients become nervous when they visit a doctor. You want to walk out of the doctor’s office with the most accurate possible picture of your current health. Besides, how would you feel if a doctor prescribed blood pressure medicine that you didn’t really need?
Should I be consulting a specialist (or another doctor) about this issue? — There’s an old Henny Youngman joke about the guy who, after consulting a psychiatrist, is told that “your entire problem is that you’re stupid.” The guy immediately objects: “I want a second opinion!” Whereupon the good doctor says “Okay, you’re also ugly.”
There are all kinds of horror stories out there about misdiagnoses. In his marvelous book How Doctors Think, writer-physician Jerome Groopman tells the story of a woman who went from doctor to doctor because she couldn’t keep food down, and kept losing weight and getting weaker.
One doctor after another told her to eat more pasta and other carbohydrates. Finally, one doctor took her huge medical file and said “let’s put this aside, and start from scratch.” Without subjecting himself to faulty thinking, this last doctor diagnosed the woman with celiac disease, or allergy to glutens. Turns out that the pasta and carbohydrate recommendations of the other physicians were starving the woman to death.
So don’t be shy about asking a physician about a second opinion. It just might be the opinion that saves your life.
What are my other options? — We like to make assumptions about the way others think, without asking them what they think. Doctors do this too — even with their patients. If a patient suffers from erectile dysfunction, and a drug like Viagra isn’t doing the trick, the doctor might not talk about the possibility of a penile implant, because he might assume his patient would never consider such a procedure. The patient who asks about the procedure will find out more than the patient who doesn’t ask. Both are paying the doctor the same fee.
So the next time you visit your doctor, don’t be afraid to be inquisitive, even to the point of being impertinent, if you must. Your body, your health — your choice.