Let’s just say you’re in the doctor’s office because you’ve got a brand, new problem – one you know nothing about. You’ve explained your symptoms. He quickly examines you and comes up with a diagnosis. It’s “xyz,” he says. Oh, my goodness you’re thinking “xyz, I have no idea what that is.” Why should you? It’s the first time you’ve ever heard of it. You try to formulate an intelligent question or two for the doctor, hoping for a more detailed explanation of the problem. But, because this diagnosis is so new to you, you’re not even sure what to ask. The doctor is looking at his watch. You’re already feeling anxious and now you’re feeling rushed in addition. But, when you get home you begin researching “xyz.” Okay. Feeling more comfortable now. Better informed. Now you can return to your physician’s office, have that discussion about your illness, any treatments indicated, alternative options and what to expect and for how long. You’ll ask quite a few questions and learn more about “xyz.” Ideally, this could have taken place on your first office visit, but unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough.
At a recent visit my doctor glanced at the book I was reading, When Doctors Don’t Listen, by Drs. Wen /Kosowsky. We began to discuss patients as active partners in their healthcare, the need for patients to have productive conversations with their healthcare providers, asking appropriate questions and working together to arrive at the best possible options for care. My doctor’s response:”I only welcome intelligent questions.” What an interesting and unfortunate response – expecting a patient to ask what he called “intelligent questions” when this illness is information she just received and was trying to digest. Even more importantly, how does a doctor define what an intelligent question is and what’s the criteria he uses? If his patient had asked a “dumb” question, wouldn’t that be the right time for a physician to sit down with the patient and share his knowledge of her illness.
The physician as educator has always been essential to his role as a healer regardless of how “smart” or not so smart questions patients may pose. Even if you’re a patient who is extremely knowledgeable about your health, it’s almost impossible to know it all. If you knew everything, you wouldn’t need to go to a physician in the first place!
Become an empowered patient and ask questions. All of your questions are important to you. They require answers and explanations that make sense to you. It’s your health we’re talking about here. Why wait.