Five Questions to Ask Your Doctor about a New Treatment
“Take two of these pills a day and come back in two weeks.”
“Be at the hospital at 6 AM on Tuesday and I’ll take out your gall bladder.”
“You’ll need these pills for the rest of your life.”
The statements above may have been all the information people wanted from their doctor two generations ago, but in the 21st century, we expect more. We want to understand our health problems. We want to be sure that we are getting the best treatment. We want to know whether we should get a second opinion. But too often, when the doctor recommends a treatment, our minds freeze and we do not know what to ask. Here are five questions that will give you the understanding you need.
1. Why have you recommended this treatment for me?
This open-ended question reveals your doctor’s thinking. The best answer? “Studies in people exactly like you show that compared to other approaches, this treatment will make you live longer.” Unfortunately, not all medical decisions are that black and white. Whatever the answer, it should demonstrate the doctor’s knowledge of medical science.
2. What are the risks?
Any treatment strong enough to help you will have some risk of harm. Even aspirin can cause stomach ulcers and bleeding. What are the worst-case scenarios? How likely are they to happen? If the health practitioner tells you there is no risk, consider a second opinion.
3. What are the benefits?
What should the treatment accomplish? What is the best-case scenario? How likely is that to occur? What should you expect to happen? The bottom line is that any treatment should either make you live longer or feel better. If the treatment will make you live longer, you may be willing to accept more risks than you would for a treatment that will only make you feel a little better.
4. What are the alternatives?
What other medicines or surgeries could be used instead? What are their risks and benefits?
What happens if you have no treatment? How likely are you to get worse or to die? As a doctor who treats heart patients, I find that many people do not understand the seriousness of their disease.