Originally published in Kingsport Times News Health & Wellness section – March 28, 2012
Once I thought if I could just get through medical school and residency training I would be able simply to fix people who came to me with medical problems. That was naïve, but oh, what fun it would be. Later I learned the difficult reality that knowing for certain what to do for a patient is the exception more than the rule. We usually have to consider multiple diagnoses that could explain symptoms and weigh the benefits against possible adverse effects of any treatment. There seems we rarely have time in the day to listen fully to what patients say, consult resources or explain the situation as well as I would like.
Since we have real life limitations here are some suggestions for how you can maximize the effectiveness of that doctor visit and find the best treatment.
1. Specify your questions or concerns up front. Often I have spent all of the allotted visit time reviewing medicines and preventive tasks that needed done for a patient, only for them to tell me at the end that what they really came for was something else! Worse yet, I can remember times when somebody requested a “physical” resulting in a falsely-reassuring bill of good health. They wrongly assumed some chest pains were not heart disease or a new mole was not cancer, thinking if it had been abnormal I would have noticed it.
2. Yes, you may look it up on the Internet! Surely my life would be simpler if people just did what I recommended without questioning me. Yet that would risk letting me make mistakes and harming people. Please, though, let your doctor know what you have found and discuss it. We may have prescribed something that shouldn’t be given with your other medicines or conditions and will want to change it. Other times the doctor knows the adverse effects you found are small risks compared to the important need you have for it. If you make that decision without telling the doctor you miss out on their knowledge.
3. Be honest. My patients sometimes answer questions the way they think I want them to answer rather than giving the bare truth. Occasionally I have increased blood pressure medicine or insulin doses higher and higher thinking they are taking their medicines when they weren’t. The risk is then if they should start taking it as prescribed they could get dangerously low blood pressure or sugar all of a sudden. It’s better to say how much or little you are taking, or smoking, or drinking, even at the risk of getting fussed at. Oh, and if I get too fussy just tell me that, too!