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9 Questions Your Doctor Wishes You’d Ask

Despite their best intentions, doctors are like the rest of us. They  misconstrue, miscommunicate, and sometimes just plain mess up.

"It happens all the time where physicians and patients see different  things in a different order of importance,” says Dr. Adrienne Boissy, chief of patient experience at Cleveland Clinic. While you may care most  about preserving your tennis game or your ability to enjoy wine, your  doctor may be focused on improving your pain scores or lowering your  risk for certain complications.

“Doctors have the best intent, but that doesn’t ensure they’ll always recognize a patient’s greatest need,” Boissy says.

That’s why it’s important to take an active role when talking with your  physician, says Dr. Ted Epperly, a clinical professor of family medicine  at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “Asking questions  is one of the best ways to ensure you and your doctor are on the same  page,” he says. “And if your doctor doesn’t seem interested in  answering, or you get a negative response, you need to find a new  doctor.”

Here's what experts think you should be asking your doctor:

1. What are the different treatment options?

Gone are the days when a doctor simply chooses the best course of action  and dictates this choice to the patient. It really should be a shared  decision-making process. One of your doctor’s jobs is to inform patients  of their options, and then you sort it out together. To ensure that  conversation happens, you may have to ask your doctor about your  alternatives.

2. What outcome should I expect?

You may assume your life will return to normal following a surgery or  other treatment protocol, for instance, but your doctor may know the  best possible outcome is a small improvement in one or two of your  symptoms. If you knew what your doctor knows, that might change your  decision to go through with a treatment. So it’s very important to ask  what type of medical and symptomatic outcomes you can expect.

3. Do we have to do this now, or can we revisit it later?

Doctors almost always have too much to do and too little time in which  to do it. So when they meet with a patient, there’s the temptation to be  as thorough as possible with tests or treatments. But sometimes certain  tests or therapies can wait. Asking, “Is this necessary now?” can help  your doctor stop and consider if what he or she is suggesting is  required right away, or if it can wait a while.

4. Is there anything I can do on my own to improve my condition?

Lifestyle choices like what you eat, how much you move or sleep, and  whether you smoke account for 70% of your risk for illness and disease.  They also play a huge role in helping you recover from an existing  condition. Adjusting your lifestyle is often more important than taking  the right medication. But many doctors won’t suggest lifestyle  interventions unless a patient asks. So ask.

5. What are the side effects?

There’s always the possibility that what I do with medications could  harm a patient. Whether that harm comes in the form of headaches or skin  rashes or mouth blisters, those sorts of side effects are common—and  are things patients should hear about from their doctors beforehand so  you go into a course of treatment with eyes wide open.

6. How will I hear about my test results?

Often a patient undergoes an MRI or blood work, and then finds herself  at home without any idea when or how she’ll hear from her doctor about  her results. The anxiety of waiting around and staring into the dark  abyss of uncertainty is terrible. Hopefully your doctor will be explicit  about how you’ll get your results. But if not, you should ask.

7. How much will this cost me?

Modern medicine is expensive. And the sad reality is most doctors don’t  know the costs to you of the different tests or medications or therapies  they prescribe.  It should be a doctor’s responsibility to be on top of  the cost, but many only will be if the patient pushes them to find that  out. If your doctor doesn't know, he or she should be able to refer you  to an administrator on his staff who can help you find out before you  commit to a certain course of action.

8. Should I get a second opinion?

Depending on a doctor’s area of expertise, his or her insights into your  symptoms and their causes may be very different from another doc’s. For  this reason, seeking a second opinion is always prudent. A good primary  care physician will point you to the right specialist. It may cost you  an extra copay. But asking your doctor who else you could consult for a  diagnosis is a good idea—especially if you’re considering surgery or  side-effect-heavy drugs.

9. What questions haven’t I asked that I should have?

Often a doctor and her patient cover “all the nuts and bolts” and  technical aspects of an upcoming treatment schedule. But they hadn’t  discussed the emotional impact the treatment would have on him. So ask.

This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion be construed as legal, tax, or financial advice.

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