Dealing with Doctors: Questions to Ask As you Self-Advocate

This is a reprint of an old post I have over at Teddy’s blog.

This is essentially an article about how to be a good patient. And I know you know I don’t mean the “shut up and do what they tell you” type of good patient.

Too many doctors these days are too busy to really take the time to sit and have a conversation with you. (Especially OB’s – those prenatal visits need to be longer than 10 minutes!) We have always chosen doctors for our family that will take the time, and we lucked out with Teddy’s nephrology team being so awesome because we were hardly in a position to be picky in the beginning  – though we certainly would have switched by now if we were unhappy. But I talk to too many people online who have questions – very serious questions – about their or their child’s health and they’re having to turn to the internet for information that should be coming from their doctors.

Yes, it would be nice if your doctor sat down and chatted with you for 10-20 minutes about test results, current concerns, what’s going on with you or your child, etc. But they rarely do. But that does not mean that they WON’T if you ask.

So ask. You NEED to ask! You should NOT have to search the internet for information about a test you’ve just had. Your doctor, who is looking at the results and went to medical school for the sole purpose of being able to discuss those results with you – should be able to provide you with information specific to YOUR case. You should not need to turn to Facebook with questions like “our doctor said x, what did she mean?” Your doctor, who is the one who actually said the thing, should be able to explain herself in every day language.

I am NOT discouraging you from doing your own research. Just the opposite, in fact. I’m saying that the Google can’t tell you, for example, what the unique set of lab results you have really means, and it can’t tell you how concerning they are in YOUR unique situation. Your doctor can. But sometimes you have to ask them to.

I know it’s difficult to come up with intelligent questions when you’ve just been handed some new information, but we’re not always given the opportunity to process before discussing with a doctor. (You should ALWAYS be able to call or message your doctor after your appointment with followup questions, though.) I know I usually need a day or two to do some research on my own before being able to formulate truly good questions.

But sometimes, you don’t need really good questions – you just need SOME questions, and you really need to ask those questions more or less immediately. Keep these easy questions in your back pocket. (Literally, if it helps. Take a notebook to EVERY appointment, and write these questions on the first page.)

– Can I have a minute?

– What does this mean?

– What were the results of this test exactly?

– What is the normal range?

– What does this test tell us? What doesn’t it tell us?

– Is this concerning?

– Does this need to be treated?

– What are our options? What are the alternatives?

– Do we need to treat this right away? What happens if we wait?

– What does this word mean?

– What is your recommendation?

– Can you please explain that again?

– Can you draw a picture or is there a drawing or photograph we can look at? (Super helpful – our urologist drew us pictures at several points when Teddy was in the NICU. I had the nurse make a copy of one of them for us. I laugh now, because the procedure was so simple in comparison to our knowledge base NOW… but at the time, we were overwhelmed and it was all new to us, and the picture was so important to our understanding.)

Those questions should give you a good foundation of information. I personally think the most important one is “what does this mean?” It’s all-purpose.

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