Monday, February 05, 2007
Three questions for your doctor
"Ask your doctor."

You've heard it in a million pharmaceutical advertisements, but do you really know what to ask? Dr. Rick Kellerman, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says that in any medical situation, a patient or their family should ask three vital questions:

- What do I have?

- What is the treatment?

- What is going to happen to me?

Simple enough, but too often basic communication breaks down. Consumer Reports just published a survey that asked 39,090 patients and 335 primary care doctors what they like about each other and what drives them up the wall.

The No. 1 complaint of doctors, 59 percent of them, is patients who don't follow the prescribed treatment (No. 1 patient complaint: doctors who keep you waiting). Of course, not following doctor's orders because you didn't understand what he or she said can lead to serious health consequences.

If you're like me, when you finally get through the waiting room, you're tongue-tied. Kellerman suggests keeping a running list of complaints and questions, so you don't forget them at the moment of truth. He also says that to avoid confusion, you should bring in all your medications, in a bag. Consumer Reports suggests bringing printouts of "credible" information from the Internet.

What else to ask? Other doctors gave me some interesting suggestions, from "What tests would be important to check my risk of heart disease, stroke or cancer?" to "How would you treat me, if you didn't have a prescription pad?"

Whatever you want to know, communication flows better with a doctor you know well and who makes you comfortable. That's why Kellerman says it's so important to see a primary care physician on a regular basis. If you do that, the three basic questions are less likely to produce an alarming answer.

What would you really like to ask your doctor?
The trouble with asking doctors questions is that about 1 out of 4 doctors actually give the impression that they want to listen to you, or that they have the time to hear about concerns you have that aren't related to "why you came in today". I've seen a lot of doctors who only want to hear about the relevant symptoms, and then shove you out the door with a prescription. By contrast, my acupuncturist set aside an hour during ym first appointment for us just to talk.
My most common question regarding treatment is "Whoa! Can I do it myself?" As in "Ooh can I do the suturing? or "Can I do the injection?" or "Can I see the tissue samples? Can I see the slides? Can I prep the slides? Can I have extra tissue samples to take back to work to play with?". Yep. I'm a life science nerd. Well, that, and things just don't hurt as much when I do them to myself, preferably in the presence of someone who will get all grossed out and faint for me.
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