When you get a quote for the repair of a home plumbing issue or mechanical maintenance on a vehicle, do you find yourself “shopping” around for more than one estimate? Many people do and most would say this is an important step in deciding the best course of action to successfully address the problem. But do you behave the same way when it comes to treatment recommendations from your physician or other health care providers? Most people don’t. As patients, we often view doctors as all-knowing experts in their fields. We don’t often question their judgment, even when something about what they’ve recommended just doesn’t “sit right.” We don’t want to offend them by asking too many questions or by seeking out other opinions on the matter.
As a physician and a patient myself, I am here to tell you: First impressions and second opinions MATTER. In fact, I recently performed the successful removal of prostate cancer from a man who was originally told his tumor was inoperable by a university-level, recognized-expert in prostate cancer surgery. But the patient’s general impression of the other physician, coupled with his desire for a second opinion and the “feeling” that the recommendation just wasn’t “right,” were enough to have him searching for more answers. That’s when he found me; in time to successfully treat his cancer before it spread to other areas of his body.
So what should you do when faced with a medical concern for which you’ve been recommended a course of treatment? The easiest answer is “Go with Your Gut.” But here are some additional tips to help steer you in the right direction:
1. Give Power to the First Impression. First impressions matter. Period. If you find yourself uneasy around a provider during your consultation, trust yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your concerns with this person, you’re doing yourself and the provider a disservice. You must be able to freely discuss your medical concerns and your provider must be a great communicator and a good listener. Also, make sure you look beyond the physician. For example, what is your first impression of his staff or her office location? These are important questions to answer too.
2. Consider Getting a Second Opinion. While some treatment situations don’t require it, under certain circumstances, it may be important for you to get more than one “expert” opinion. Pay attention to how the provider recommending the original treatment takes the news that you’re going to seek a second opinion. Is he or she uncomfortable? Defensive? That reaction matters. In the case I described above, the negative reaction of the original doctor had this patient looking for answers somewhere else. As physicians, encouraging our patients to become “fully informed” is a must. And second opinions can be an important way to do that. Your doctor should be completely open to you doing so.
3. Be Informed. This is a large responsibility of yours. Your doctor might think he or she is explaining things to you in terms that you can understand. But if you don’t understand, please speak up and ask. In fact, prepare yourself and write down the important questions you want to ask before your appointment. Yes, chances are great that your doctor is busy. But our most important time in a day is spent in dialogue with our patients. A bit of preparation will help you maximize your time and the physician’s. If you end up thinking of questions after your initial visit, don’t hesitate to make a second appointment to get the answers you need. And make sure to factor tips 2 and 3 into this one too. If your doctor seems annoyed by your questions, or he or she just doesn’t communicate well enough for you to have a strong grasp of what’s being recommended, take serious note of that.
4. Talk it Out. Once you’ve done some communicating with doctors and fact-finding on your own, talk it all out with loved ones. Explaining the recommendations you’ve received to other people is a great way to ensure YOU have a complete grasp of the treatment recommendations too. Plus, it will give friends and family an opportunity to weigh in on everything and might also give you more questions to ask and things to think about during your follow-up appointments.
More than ever, patients need to be strong advocates for their own health and their health care decisions. Keep your standards high and don’t let them waiver. When you do that, the physicians and other health care providers you find will help you stay on course with your medical treatments because you trust and believe in their advice.
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