Q: I always feel that I am bothering my doctor’s office staff when I call. How do I figure out the best way to reach my doctor with questions?
A: During your office visit, ask your doctor for guidance about the best way to follow up, e.g., phone call, e-mail, or scheduled office visit. When you check out, review with the office staff what the doctor told you about asking follow up questions. Thus, you are alerting the staff that you will be in communication when you have questions.
Q: I get nervous during my doctor’s visits and I often don’t remember the important things I want to tell my doctor. Do you have any suggestions?
A: It may be counter-intuitive, but it’s important to take time to prepare for doctor’s office visits. Preparation may seem unnecessary as you may feel that your doctor will get to the bottom of your issue. However, the only way to ensure that your important concerns are heard and addressed is to be organized before arriving at the doctor’s office. Come prepared with detailed information about your symptoms, how long you have had the symptoms, and what you have done to treat the problem. Doctors are often appreciative that their patients are organized – it makes it much easier for them to address concerns. You will find that this preparation leads to less anxiety for you, and improves the experience for both you and your doctor.
Q: I feel so stupid when I have to ask question after question because I don’t understand the medical words that my doctor uses. A lot of times I just keep quiet because I’m too embarrassed. What should I do?
A: Speak up if you have questions or concerns. If you still do not understand, ask again. It is your body, and you have a right to know. Your health is most important. Do not worry about being embarrassed if you don’t understand something that your doctor tells you. No doctor can reasonably expect that you have knowledge of medical jargon. Ask your doctor to please use lay terms to explain your illness, since it’s important that you fully understand the problem in order to follow the treatment instructions.
Also, before your visit, prepare a list of questions you may have about your symptoms or condition. Check off the questions as they are answered so you know that you have covered everything. Take notes during your visit, and mark items that you want to follow-up on before you finish your visit. You may also want to ask your doctor if you can use record the visit so you can review his/her answers to your questions carefully.
Q: I want to get a second opinion about a complicated surgical procedure, but my doctor intimidates me. I feel as if I must follow his advice. I can’t have a conversation about other more conservative approaches because I worry that he will think I don’t trust his judgment. And, if I question his recommendation and request a second opinion, I worry that he will get angry and refuse to treat me. Is this a reasonable concern?
A: The good news is that the old days of medical paternalism are gone. Today, the vast majority of doctors embrace, at least in theory, the importance of shared decision-making, which involves a partnership with patients. That is, a give and take discussion in which doctors describe various treatment options, and provide patients with choices based on their health care issues, values and goals of care. While research indicates that most physicians say they engage in shared decision-making with their patients, like you, many individuals still don’t perceive the relationship as a partnership. There continue to be many obstacles that inhibit open, honest conversations. When we are ill, we feel helpless and vulnerable, and worry that if our doctor gets offended, we will be labeled as difficult patients. Then there may be some sort of retaliation, and we will not receive good care. Know that the majority of physicians are happy to provide patients with information about getting second opinions. If a particular physician gets offended at a patient’s request for a second opinion that is a huge red flag that ought to be heeded; it’s time to look for another physician!
If you want more information about obstacles to shared decision-making, review the study published in Health Affairs http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/31/5/1030.abstract