Consultations with your doctor can be rushed and stressful, and it is common for patients to forget to ask key questions during the actual consultation itself.
While doctors often effectively have an “agenda” of issues to work through in a consultation,such as taking a history, performing an examination and ordering tests, issues of importance from a patients perspective can often be left out, so patients need to think about their own agenda, and what they would like to get out of any consultation. It is important to work out what are the most important questions to ask your doctor to make sure you get the most out of your consultation, and consequently receive the most appropriate treatment, and make sure that your own agenda is addressed?
How can you make sure that you remember to ask the questions that are of most concern to you?
As a practicing physician, here are my suggestions:
1. Do as much research as possible before you see your doctor – let’s face it you don’t go and see your accountant to do your taxes without collecting information beforehand, and thinking about the issues you want to discuss. Do the same with your doctor. The Internet is the easiest source of information to use, and the US Government Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has an excellent site where you will find a comprehensive series of questions on many different health topics.
2. Write down your questions – and if necessary take a list with you, including a second copy for your doctor.
3. Prioritize your questions – ask the most important ones first – don’t waste time asking about the payment process when you are really worried about whether you have cancer or diabetes.
4. Take someone with you if you have questions that are really concerning you – two sets of ears are better than one – and make sure you have discussed your needs with your friend or family member before the consultation so that they can help you get answers if necessary.
5 Write down the answers – even if this is just a rapid note. Research has shown that only 20% of the information given during a medical consultation is remembered one week later – but if it’s written down, the percentage recall is much higher.
Asking good questions is essential in any medical consultation, and it is incumbent on patients to take responsibility for their health and find out as much as possible of relevance so that they can make good decisions in partnership with their doctors.