In our previous article, How to Be Your Own Health Care Advocate, we began sharing the importance of the relationship between patients and physicians and how to get the most from that relationship. The first visit with a physician often occurs under stressful times, when you’re not feeling well, sometimes in pain, and most often, anxious about what the experience will be.
In order for your physician to determine how to best assist you, be prepared for a thorough exchange of information. Obviously, you both will need to ask questions, which unfortunately, is where some of the problems begin. Some patients are intimidated by the authority figure that doctors represent.
Others may believe that doctors are too busy, and then there are those who might be so new to their own medical condition that they don’t even know just what questions they should ask.
By asking questions, you, as a patient, can get information about:
- What your diagnosis means to your health and future
- What kinds of test you may need
- What treatment options might be available
- And what exactly you might be able to do to start feeling better
Whether you’re going for a routine medical check-up, or you’re a patient in a hospital, it may be helpful to have a friend or family member with you. It’s always beneficial, whenever possible, to prepare for your visit with your doctor. So, just what kinds of questions should you ask, and how do you do that so you will gain the kind of information that you will need to participate in the treatment plan that your doctor might recommend? Asking questions in an open-ended manner, rather than those that can be answered with a more limiting “yes” or “no” will promote conversation and discussion.
For example “Will I need to have surgery?”will be less effective than, “Can you explain what my treatment options might be?”
Some basic questions that you might want to ask before considering treatment may include some of the following:
- What do I have, and can you explain that to me?
- What treatment are you recommendingand can you explain its risks and benefits?
- If I decide not to accept that treatment, what will happen to me? Are there treatments available other than what you’re recommending, and can you tell me about some of those?
Because some physicians use medical jargon when speaking to their patients, don’t be afraid to let your doctor know that you don’t understand. There may be a lot of information shared during each visit with a doctor, and even more if you have several conditions and many different doctors. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to take notes,or have someone with you who can. Depending upon the purpose of your visit, and if you do need to have a more in-depth discussion with your doctor, or if this is your first visit to establish a relationship with someone who would be your primary care physician, it might be a good idea to see if you can schedule a visit with the doctor when there may be more time, perhaps at the end of the day.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help you during future physician visits. In the coming months, we’ll provide additional suggestions to help make the relationship that you have with your physician a more successful one. If you have any topics or areas you’d like addressed, please feel free to contact me.
Catherine M. Mullahy, RN, BS. CRRN, CCM, is the president of Mullahy & Associates, LLC and the author of The Case Manager’s Handbook, Fifth Edition. Since 2009, Mullahy & Associates has been a provider of educational and training programs for case managers serving within Veterans Health Administration facilities nationwide. Mullahy & Associates’ “Best in Class Case Management – Veteran’s Health Administration Edition” is the recipient of the Case In Point 2014 Platinum Award.