Ask the Right Questions
Knowing what questions to ask your doctor is the first step in determining whether his or her treatment will meet your expectations. Dr. Fletcher suggests asking the following:
- Will my symptoms become more severe?
- What treatment options are available if they do?
- What are the pros and cons of each option?
Your doctor should be able to discuss why he or she favors a particular option and should be able to cite current, relevant research to back up that point of view.
Dr. Scott Whitten, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist in Reno, Nevada, recommends asking your doctor if there are any new treatment options or diagnostic tests available. "Keep in mind, however, that new doesn't always mean better," he cautions. "Often times, both patients and physicians get excited when new treatments are revealed. Make sure to talk to your doctor about the clinical research that has been conducted on the new treatment and what the risks associated with it may be."
Spot the Warning Signs
Even when you're asking all the right questions, how can you really be sure that your doctor is changing with the times? "The real warning sign that a doctor isn't aware of the newest research findings is the absence of journals, current books, modern computer programs, and other sources of up-to-date information in a doctor's office," says Dr. Fletcher.
Unfortunately, most patients only ever see the inside of the exam room, not the inside of their doctor's office, making it difficult to know if these things are present. Dr. Fletcher adds, "Patients might ask, 'How do you keep up with all the new information that's out there, Doctor?' Ask them what medical journals they read, or if they subscribe to UpToDate, an electronic textbook of medicine that is continually updated." You might also ask your doctor to recommend, or provide you with, some literature on your condition and the treatment options available.
Another warning sign is a seeming refusal to admit his or her own limitations. "No doctor can be expected to have committed to memory all relevant information," says Dr. Fletcher. "A good doctor realizes this, and will have a feasible way to look up the information they need." In other words, sometimes what you really need in a doctor is someone who isn't afraid to say, "I don't know."
Finally, look for a physician who is forthcoming with information. "The most important feature of the doctor-patient relationship is trust," says Dr. Whitten. He explains that patients can trust a doctor who can adequately explain his or her reasons for choosing a particular therapy, the alternatives to that therapy, and how it may or may not help. "If your physician is unwilling to provide you with this information," he says, "it may be time to consider a second opinion."