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. A refill on a prescription Joe wasn’t sure he needed anymore, but wanted to be safe. And a blood test for a condition Joe thought he might 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.
Too Much Medical Care?
In this age of patient empowerment, educated patients often arrive at their doctors' offices armed with information, along with a list of medications and tests they want. Many doctors have adjusted their approach accordingly, including responding to the pressure their patients place on them, with "Yes."
Doctors are busy, and may not always take the time to adequately consider 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.
Well, in some cases, unnecessary testing and treatments can hurt. They can impact your physical well-being, including unwanted side effects. They can present unnecessary risks. Copays can put an unnecessary dent in your wallet. And unnecessary testing and treatment ends up costing everybody.
Get What You Need, Not Just What You Ask For
So, a question: Is it possible you are getting what you ask for, but not always what you need? Your doctor may be saying, "Yes," when some watching and waiting — or “No” — might be the best option.
Here are three tips to clarify with your doctor that his or her yes really means yes:
First, recheck your attitude. Take a step back and approach him or 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 or 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 he or she doesn’t have a solid reason for consenting , then you might want to provide some help. Give him or 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 OK with giving that a try.” This is kind of like inviting your doctor to play the devil’s advocate. A little skepticism can lead to better decisions.
Teaming up with your doctor is not all about getting the “yes.” It’s about getting to 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.