By Howard J. Luks, MD
Being prepared for your doctor visit is of paramount importance. Becoming an active, informed participant in your own health is a great first step to prevent disability and steer clear of bad advice.
The research on patient recall about what their doctor said is not good. Most of us remember no more than 20 percent of what we’re told, and we will often forget to ask about issues, options, or concerns.
It’s More Important Than Ever To Be Prepared to Prevent Disability
With all the changes taking place across healthcare, the end result is that your doctor has less time to spend with you … or in the new factory medical office models some physician groups utilize, you might not even see the doctor—you might only see their assistant. Equally concerning, many practices will seek to maximize revenues by recommending patients for surgery too early, or unnecessarily.
- Perhaps it is appropriate to consider surgery in your case.
- Perhaps it’s not.
- How do you know?
- How should you prepare yourself so you can make an informed decision?
The way to avoid becoming a statistic who can’t remember most of what the doc said—or worse, one who got unnecessary surgery—is to be proactive. Many people are afraid to speak up in a physician’s office, but this should not be the case. Their office, and your physician, is there to treat you and help you prevent disability.
You and many patients before you are the reason their office is open for business. You need to ask to see the physician, and you need to be prepared to ask the physician a set of questions you prepared before entering their office.
Injuries Are On The Rise, Doctors Recommend Surgery More Often
Over the years many trends have emerged. Some of these trends are the reason for your visit, and others are the reason you need to know what to ask. Some of these trends include:
- Childhood injuries are on the rise. Children and teens are more active early in life; and the loss of seasonality in many sports and single-sport specialization is leading to a significant number of serious injuries in our children.
- Overuse injuries in adults are on the rise, too. People are staying active longer in life. They are battling the bulge and pushing themselves harder than previous generations. And they have no intention of stopping.
- Surgery might not be as necessary as we once thought. Not all worn-out parts need to be repaired for us to lead an active life. Papers are emerging showing that many meniscus tears do not require surgery, knee arthroscopy for arthritis is worthless in many cases, certain rotator cuff tears can be treated with physical therapy, and many people with ACL tears do just as well without reconstruction.
- There has been an increase in the number of arthroscopic surgeries of the knee and the shoulder. As we age, things start to wear out. MRI machines are becoming far more sensitive. We have entered the age of high tech, low touch medicine. Many treatment recommendations are being based solely on the MRI findings, despite the fact that many of the changes that show up on your MRI often do not require surgery or are simply a normal consequence of aging, genetics and activity.
Even with the emergence of the smartphone and many other technologies such as electronic medical records and iPhone apps, it is clear that a simple pad and a pen remain the two objects you need to bring to your doctor visits.
The Top 5 Questions To Ask Your Doctor
- What is my diagnosis? You will want to write this down. Be precise, because you will be searching this term after you leave the office.
- Ask if there are any other associated keywords to search.
- If your doctor is not willing to educate you, consider moving on.
- Options: What are the evidence-based (if available) recommendations to treat my condition?
- non-surgical options
- surgical options
- Complications: This is in two parts.
- what complications could arise from NOT having surgery?
- what are the potential complications of surgery?
- Volume matters! How many of these surgeries have you performed?
- Again, if the doctor seems offended by this question or doesn’t want to answer, it’s not a good sign. As good as a doctor may be, s/he must be on your side at all times.
- What are your goals for my treatment plan? Having realistic goals is critical. Do not assume that your goals and your physician’s goals are one and the same.
- Does your physician think your pain will go away?
- Will there be any residual functional deficits? Things you still can’t do at 100 percent, even after you recover?
- Will I be able to return to X,Y or Z activity if I do or do not have surgery?
Being prepared for your doctor visit is critical if you want to prevent disability, avoid unnecessary treatment, and take charge of your health. With the emergence of the aforementioned trends, a second or third opinion might be important. If you have documented your first visit well then you will be in a better position to ask the appropriate questions of the physician you are seeing for another opinion.
In addition, when your loved one, or your caregiver or friend asks you what’s wrong, you will be able to pull out your pad and have a meaningful conversation—which hopefully leads to better informed, less stressful medical decision making, and, in the end, helps you prevent disability.
A version of this post originally appeared on howardluksmd.com.
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