Joe got exactly what he needed from his doctor, as he generally did. A couple of prescriptions for medications that Joe had read about and thought might be helpful for some symptoms he was experiencing. A refill on a prescription that Joe wasn’t sure he needed anymore, but wanted to stay on the safe side. And a blood test for a condition a friend has and that Joe thought he might also be at risk for.
“Nothing like covering all of the bases,” Joe said to his wife, Angie. “It can’t hurt to be prepared for anything, right?”
Angie surprised Joe by asking: “Did you ask the doctor if you really needed all of this?”
“We talked a little bit, I guess,” Joe answered. “He knows I like to stay on top of things with my health.”
But after he thought about it, Joe wasn’t so sure he and his physician had done much talking. Mostly, Joe had talked, and his doctor had written prescriptions. Looking back, Joes realized he hadn’t even asked his doctor for his opinion. He wasn’t asking for anything that was that big of a deal anyway, he told himself.
In this age of patient empowerment, educated patients often arrive at their doctor’s offices armed with information, along with a list of medications and tests they want. Doctors have adjusted their approach accordingly, including responding to the pressure their patients place on therm.
Doctors are busy, and they may not always take the time to adequately consider the benefits of a medication or test their patients request. And they may have an attitude similar to their patients, that it “can’t hurt.” Especially if the request is from patients they have a relationship with and whose judgment they trust.
And the insurance pays for it all anyway. Right?
Well, in some cases, unnecessary testing and treatments can hurt. They can impact your physical well-being, including long and short-term side effects. Copays can put a dent in your wallet that might not need to be there. And unnecessary testing and treatment ends up costing everybody.
So, a question: Is it possible that you are getting what you ask for, but not always what you need? Your doctor may sometimes be saying yes when some watching and waiting – or plain old “no” – might be the best option.
Here’s how to clarify with your doctor that his/her yes really means yes:
First, recheck your attitude. Take a step back and ask yourself if your physician is responding to a well-prepared case for why you want a specific test or medication – or even a demand – rather than approaching him/her as a professional whose opinion and advice you are seeking. It might help to remind yourself that you want your doctor to be an expert and not an order-taker.
Get clarification. When your doctor answers yes, ask for the reason behind the yes, just as you would if he or she had said no. Try something like: “Have you had patients in situations like mine who have benefitted from this medication?” Or, “Do you think I have symptoms that would warrant moving forward with this test right now?” While your doctor is busy, if he/she is comfortable with the medication or test you are suggesting, then this question shouldn’t be too hard to answer. Or it may lead to more questions from your doctor, which can lead to a more informed decision.
Still not sure? Then use the direct approach. If your doctor hesitates, or otherwise implies that he/she doesn’t have a solid reason for consenting to your request, then you might want to provide some help. If not give him/her an out. “I just want to make sure you are comfortable with this. If you want to watch my symptoms for awhile longer, then I respect your judgment.” Or, “If you have something else you think might work as well, then I am okay with giving that a try.” This is kind of like inviting your doctor to play the “devil’s advocate”: “Is this what you would have recommended if I hadn’t suggested it?” A little skepticism can lead to better decisions.
Teaming up with your doctor is not all about getting to – or demanding – the “yes.” It’s about seeking an informed opinion and working together to make decisions that are in your best interest. After all, the path of least resistance is not always the path toward your optimal healthcare.