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Asking the right questions to your doctor

Did you ever leave the doctor and then remembered that other issue you wanted to ask about? Or have you been told, “Only one complaint today”? Or have you just been stuck in the waiting room for an hour past your appointment time? These are some of the problems with the “ten minute appointment.” At our office we always take the time to answer every question. But in my nearly 25 years of seeing patients these are the questions that I think people should ask.

What were my lab results?

I have been doing this long enough to know that for a lot of us docs this is a job like any other. And at the end of the day we just want to be home with our family. What does this have to do with my labs? Well, I remember a time where I was seeing five or six patients an hour. At the end of each day I was required to review a stack of labs almost 2 inches thick and sign each page! Did you ever wonder why doctors signatures are so crazy? That’s one reason. My point is that it is easy even today with our electronic medical record to get lost in the mix. To many patients tell me, ”Well, I didn’t hear for the doctor so they must be fine…” You can see now why this is concerning to me. I always tell my patients and I’m now telling you. Do not assume no news is good news. There are countless lawsuits filed because a lab was not done or an abnormal was missed or not handled correctly. There are just too many steps between the blood getting into that tube and that result getting addressed. If you don’t hear about your labs, ASK!

Is there an alternative treatment?

As physicians we are trained by those who will eventually become our peers. We also read mountains of textbooks and journals. This training involves a specific way of thinking that many, if not most, doctors adhere to. It’s a belief that the way we learned it is the way it is. This is drilled into our heads from the beginning. There is a right way and a wrong way and nothing in the middle. Unfortunately that leads many doctors to get upset or offended when the patient may have an alternative way of thinking or may ask for a second opinion. This should not be the case. Medicine changes with time and many of the treatments we “knew” were best for patients are now considered dangerous or deadly. How many FDA approved drugs are now off the market? Many pediatricians will not take care of your children if you do not get immunizations on the schedule they recommend. I’ve seen neurosurgeons who refuse to take patients after a patient asked for a second opinion.

It’s unfortunate that medicine is like this but as a whole we have developed specific treatment algorithms that work for the majority of people. The catch is that they don’t work for everyone and if you don’t fit in the majority then you will likely be unable to get the treatment you need.

This is how we are different. We look at every lab individually, we order labs tailored to your symptoms, we consider all treatments including those that do not fit in traditional medicine and will even investigate treatment options you may find that we are not familiar with.

I know a doctor who says, ”I don’t care if my patients use Google to figure out what’s going on… but I do charge them double the standard rate.” We encourage you to ask questions and I encourage you to ask for an alternative treatment if you don’t feel the recommended treatment plan fits for you.

Can you explain that again?

Just yesterday I spoke to a colleague who had a sister in the hospital. She was asking her sister what the diagnosis and treatment plan was. The story she heard made no sense at all. In the end we called the hospital and spoke to the providers to find out the true story. It turned out the patient didn’t really understand what was going on and was not able to communicate her situation at all.

I think this is much more prevalent then we physicians think. I spend a lot of time teaching but I still feel like only a small portion of that information gets through. That’s okay. I can explain it again. If you are puzzled at an explanation or treatment plan or lab result and just don’t get it. Ask. If you asked last time and still don’t get it, ask again.

When you are confused about the disease, labs, or treatment plan it creates fear, distrust and potentially mistakes in your care. Medication dosing may be changed incorrectly because you may not realize that there is a new symptom or a side effect of your treatment you need to discuss with your doctor.