You know the problem: Either
doctor is rushed, or you're
scared or intimidated -
or all of the above - you often
come out of the doctor's
office with your questions
still unanswered. Maybe
you even wonder if you've
received good care.
Here's a solution:
Anticipate in advance
physicians often use
as well as how you might
reply to them. Such
planning will give you more
control over your session
with the doctor, thus
increasing the chances
that you'll receive the
information you need.
A few examples:
"Yes, yes, I see . . ." the
doctor says, interrupting
you. If this has ever
happened to you, you're
not alone. In a recent study,
Dr. Howard Beckman of
Wayne State University
in Detroit found that doctors
interrupt patients quickly,
most often after only the
first symptom is described.
To prevent misdiagnosis
from this lack of information,
Dr. Beckman recommends
that patients prepare a
written list of symptoms
arranged in order of
importance. At the
beginning of an office
visit you can say, "I have
three symptoms. The
first is . . ." Then, if
interrupted, it will be
asier to remind the
doctor later, "Remember,
I have two other symptoms
I haven't told you
about yet." "I'm sorry,
but you can't come in
with the patient."
If you're feeling nervous
or ill, it's easy to forget
key questions or to
misunderstand what the
doctor says. So bringing a
relative or good friend
along - and not just to the
waiting room - can be
a good idea. But many
physicians object to
having anyone in the
examining room. A good
response is, "I'm really not
up to par today and would
like my husband to stay
with me. I think he can
help me understand and
remember what you say
better than if I were alone.
" Or "I'm a little frightened
and really need the support
of my friend."
"You have spellosis, complicated by
That's a nonsense diagnosis, but it probably
makes as much sense as some real ones do when
couched in medical dictionary language. Do not
feel inadequate for not understanding - just ask
the doctor to start all over again, this time in plain
"It's nothing to worry about," or "No, it
can't be that."
Without an adequate medical explanation - one
you can easily understand - you probably will
worry. So when the doctor doesn't give you
reasons for the conclusion, you might say: "Would
you please explain exactly why I shouldn't worry
about this?" Or "I'd feel more comfortable if you
would tell me why you think it's not that." If the
response is "Well, that's just not likely to occur,"
insist on a better answer. "I really want to know
the medical basis for your opinion."
"Here - I think this should take care
of it," as you are handed a
The following questions should help you
get the necessary facts: "What is this
called? Why do I need it? Is there a less
expensive generic version that's safe to
take? What do you expect the drug to do
and how long before it takes effect?
When should I call you if I'm not better?
Are there any special instructions about
when and how I should take this drug?
Could it interact with other drugs that I
take?" Your pharmacist can also answer
many of these questions.
"I wouldn't worry about the side
effects of this medicine."
On the contrary, there are two good
reasons to be aware of them. If a minor
side effect occurs, it's comforting to know
the cause. And because a major one
might warrant a change in the medication,
you need to know what to look out for.
Try this response: "Even so, I'd really like
to know any possible side effects. How
likely are they? Which ones do you want
to know about?" You can also get
information on side effects in prescription
medicine guides located in the reference
department of most public libraries.
"I'll order some tests."
Sometimes physicians order a medical
test without telling the patient much about
it or realizing the needless worry this can
cause. Getting a few details will help
lower your anxiety level. "What is this test
going to tell you? How accurate is it? Will
it change my treatment? What will be
done - is it risky or painful? Is there
anything special I need to do
"I think you should have this
Depending on your medical problem,
choosing the right treatment can be very
difficult. First, if you don't have a clear
understanding of the condition being
treated and its prognosis, speak up now.
"Please tell me again exactly what I have
and what's likely to happen." Then ask,
"Are there other treatments for this?" If
so, the following questions for each
therapy, including the recommended one,
will help you reach a decision: "What are
the benefits and risks, and how likely is it
to work? What can I expect? Are there
any common side effects? How much
time does the treatment take, and will I
have to be in the hospital?" If you're not
satisfied with the responses, get a second
"I don't think a second opinion will be
Most doctors have no objections to
another opinion and will often make a
referral. If yours feels otherwise, simply
say, "I understand how you feel, but I
need a second opinion for my peace of
mind as well as my family's." Or if this is
the case, "My insurance company
requires a second opinion."
"Call me if you're not feeling better,"
as the doctor is leaving the room.
Before your doctor walks out the door,
make sure you understand exactly what
he or she means. "When should I call you
if I keep feeling the same? If I get worse,
should I let you know sooner? Are there
any new things I should watch for and tell
you about right away?"
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