Five Questions to Ask Your Doctor

doctor speaking with older man

Almost no one enjoys a visit to see the doctor, especially if you’re facing treatment for a medical condition. However, understanding the process can make the experience less intimidating and allow you to obtain the greatest possible benefit from the process. Communication is an essential part of the collaboration you form with your doctor in deciding on the best possible course for care. Asking your doctor these questions during your next visit will help ensure that you receive the answers you need to make informed medical decisions.

1. What is my diagnosis and what is your suggested course of treatment?

As scary as it may be, it’s essential to know what you’re dealing with in order to make an informed decision. If the news is bad, your doctor will undoubtedly do everything possible to help you deal with the possible shock. Your doctor will probably already also have a suggested treatment in mind. This is the time to ask about alternatives. For instance, you may inquire about whether a lumpectomy rather than a complete mastectomy and chemotherapy is a viable treatment for breast cancer. Take whatever time you need to absorb your doctor’s statements and responses to your questions, and don’t be afraid to probe further about anything you don’t understand.

2. What risks or side effects are associated with the suggested treatment?

Many effective treatments have few or no side effects, but the side effects for treating conditions like heart disease or cancer can potentially be serious. Your doctor has almost certainly considered possible side effects or risks whatever treatments he or she has suggested, so don’t be afraid to ask.

3. What happens if nothing happens?

For some conditions the standard treatment is no affirmative treatment at all. Instead, a process called “watchful waiting” calls for you to monitor your condition combined with periodic visits to the doctor’s office to gauge whether your condition has progressed. In other cases, your doctor will suggest an affirmative treatment, but you should still ask what he or she expects to take place if you decide against treatment.

4. Are there things I can do in addition to or instead of your suggested treatment?

Some conditions have more than one accepted course of treatment. For instance, if you have high readings of “bad” LDL cholesterol, your doctor may suggest medication. However, if your cholesterol isn’t too high, you may be able to reduce elevated cholesterol levels through diligent diet and exercise. It can’t hurt to ask about alternative treatments for whatever condition your doctor has prescribed. Your doctor should not be offended by the question.

5. How much will treatment cost, and how much will my Medicare or insurance cover?

You may feel uncomfortable asking about costs, but there is no reason to begin treatment without knowing how much, if you’ll be expected to pay any of the expenses out of pocket. If you are working with a doctor who is associated with a concierge service, you’ll need to ask about any costs over and above your regular monthly fee. If you have no insurance, this is the time to ask about payment plans.

You may feel uneasy about asking these questions, but your doctor is accustomed to answering patients’ questions. If you don’t receive satisfactory responses from your doctor for any of your questions, you are well within your rights to request a second opinion. On the other hand, knowing the answers to these questions is the first step toward a successful treatment of your condition.

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