Your doctors may be compassionate, educated and intuitive, but that doesn’t make them mind readers. It’s up to you, as the patient, to assert your needs and expectations if you want to be satisfied with the outcome of an appointment. This is especially true as you advance in age and your health needs become greater. According to Practice Fusion, patients over the age of 65 will have seen an average of 28.4 doctors over their lifetime. We place an incredible amount of trust in these men and women, even if the time that we spend in their presence is often quite brief. That’s why it is so important to ask the right questions.
Following are a few questions that you should ask in order to make the most out of the time spent in a doctor’s office:
Why is this test or procedure necessary? Your doctor’s office uses a wide range of tests to provide diagnoses and prognoses. Whether the testing method includes blood sampling, biopsy or imaging, you have a right to know and understand its exact purpose. Ask your doctor what conditions are being tested for. Find out how long you should expect to wait for results and inquire about the follow-up steps that might be required. Perhaps most importantly, ensure that the test is absolutely necessary. While your physician must order the test, you have the right to make the final call.
What should I know about my treatment plan? Don’t leave your doctor’s office without first learning everything you can about the experiences ahead of you. If you’ve gone to the doctor for treatment of a specific condition, ask how long you should expect to wait before symptoms begin to subside or, alternately, how long you should wait before seeking follow-up treatment for persistent symptoms. If you’ve been prescribed medication, ask about possible side effects. If you are concerned about the side effects described, inquire about alternate courses of treatment. The best way to determine if you’re on the path to recovery is to know exactly what to expect along the way.
May I have a copy of my medical records? Once upon a time, we didn’t dare question the notes that a doctor scribbled into a pad as we described our symptoms. But today, the medical community recognizes that you have a right to know everything that is entered into your personal health record. With an increased emphasis on the creation of comprehensive Electronic Health Records (EHR), it is becoming easier to transmit these records to patients. Be sure to ask your doctor for a copy of your personal health records. Having your lab results, x-rays and health history gathered in a single place can take the stress out of conveying critical health information to a new provider for you or your loved ones. By being in possession of these records, you take the guesswork out of emergency care.
What follow-up steps should I take? Your treatment does not end when you leave a doctor’s office. To the contrary, you might have a whole a new set of medical directives to remember, from filling new prescriptions and scheduling follow-up appointments to adopting dietary restrictions and making broad lifestyle changes. Look for your doctor to provide you with a detailed self-care plan including referral information and prescription instructions before departing.
Is there a way I can contact you with questions? You’re bound to have questions even after you leave your doctor’s office. It’s never too late to ask. Before you leave, find out the best way to contact your doctor with questions that may arise as you follow your treatment plan. According to a recent survey by the Center for Studying Health System Change, 24% of U.S. doctors routinely provide a direct line of email contact to their patients. If you don’t use email, find out if there is a phone number that you can use to reach your doctor on short notice. The patient-physician relationship is the cornerstone of excellent healthcare. As a patient, you can make the most of this relationship by asking the right questions.