Visiting the doctor brings with it sundry rituals such as asking a few questions, collecting prescriptions and finally the promise to follow all the guidelines to the tee so that there is no coming back. But chances are that you might, after all, have to knock on your doctor’s doors again because you did not ask the right questions. A case in point is Sumi Madhur, a 25-year-old advertising professional from Pune. Suffering from 102 degree Celsius fever, she was given antibiotic by her family physician on June 25.
The doctor suspected typhoid, but after two weeks Sumi found that she was pregnant. She was terrified that the injection may have had a perilous effect on her developing fetus. Sumi could have saved herself from this state of anxiety, only if she inquired more.
So why is asking the right question important?
Dr. Aniruddha Malpani, Medical Director, HELP—Health Education Library for People, Mumbai, explains, “The only stupid question is the one you did not ask. Asking appropriate questions about your treatment and medicines will help you to acquire knowledge and will also keep the doctors and hospital staff on their toes.” Malpani says that patients must never take any medicine without asking: what it is, why it is used and what its side-effects are. “Remember, there are lots of patients and your physician sees many everyday,” he says.
Malpani also points at the fact that there could be chances that the staff may confuse one patient’s details with another. “The more involved you are in your treatment, the more protection you get from unintentional errors. The more knowledge you gain, the more questions you will be able to ask, and the more attention you will get,” he says.
Thanks to the Internet, it has become increasingly easier for patients to find answers to their health-related questions online. Learn to use the Internet intelligently; this will help you ask smarter questions and will also save your doctor’s time, because your routine questions have already been answered. Don’t worry if you do not understand everything on the first reading or in the first sitting. It takes time to absorb this information, and analyse it. Malpani says, “The good news is that there are lots of reliable websites to help you with Information Therapy. Even better, there are now many expert patients online, who can help you make sense of what is happening to you.”
Dr. Rajesh Gupta, consultant, Internal Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi, says: “Not more than 50 per cent people ask the right question. Most are scared of doctors or don’t trust them. They might be worried that the doctor is too busy to answer them, and they don’t want to waste his precious time.” Malpani concurs. “They are also secretly worried that the doctor may take offence at their questions, because he may think that they are questioning his judgment, and this may cause him to get upset and provide poor medical care,” says Malpani.
It is essential to note that your health depends on good communication, and asking questions and providing information to your doctor and other care providers can improve your care. “To be well informed is half the battle won in the treatment of medical condition. It is advisable to trust your doctor, not be scared of them; after all, they are more your friend than advisors and ask even the seemingly stupid questions. Even they can sometimes lead to helpful answers,” says Gupta.
Talking with your doctor builds trust and leads to better results, quality, safety, and satisfaction. Malpani says, “Doctors are not mind-readers, and good doctors want you to ask questions, because they know that the more you know about your medical care, the happier you are going to be with your treatment. Being well-informed will help you to have realistic expectations of the treatment, and increase your satisfaction with the care you get. Remember that if you want VIP care from your doctor, you need to become a VIP—Very-well Informed Patient.”
Quality health care is a team effort and you are the captain. Because time is limited during medical appointments, you will feel less rushed if you prepare your questions before your appointment. Speak up if you have questions or concerns, and if you don’t understand, ask again. It’s your body and you have the right to know.
Questions to ask
1. How will the results of this test change my treatment options?
2. What is the natural history of my disease?
3. Are there any other alternatives I can explore?
4. Which is the best centre in the world for this treatment?
5. Can you refer to a website where I can learn more about my problem?
TIPS TO FOLLOW
Pay attention to the care you are receiving. Make sure you’re getting the right treatments and medications by the right healthcare professionals. Don’t assume anything.
Educate yourself about your diagnosis, the medical tests you are undergoing, and your treatment plan.
Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate.
Know what medications you take and why you take them. Medication errors are the most common healthcare mistakes.
Participate in all decisions about your treatment. You are the centre of the healthcare team.