8 questions you should always ask your doctor

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In the health care world, doctors and health care workers have always said it’s important to be your own “No. 1 advocate.” Global News spoke to experts to shed light on important questions you should always ask your doctor – Sep 23, 2017

You may be seeing a family doctor, a specialist or a physician at a walk-in clinic. Are you asking the right questions when you’re heading into your appointment?

Frontline doctors and health care workers say it’s important for patients to ask questions and be their “No. 1 advocate” for their own well-being.

“I like my patients to be empowered. I like when they ask questions and we can have a conversation and make a good decision,” Dr. Nick Pimlott, a family physician at Women’s College Hospital and professor at the University of Toronto, told Global News.

“Patients who want to be educated and know more about the health conditions they have or health conditions to prevent are more engaged and it helps me help them,” Dr. Onye Nnorom, a family physician at Lakeridge Health, said.

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Experts shed light on 10 important questions you should always ask your doctor.

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How does information flow in the clinic? How will I hear back about test results?

At an appointment, you could have blood tests, mammograms, X-rays, or other tests – you need to figure out how you’ll hear back if there are any red flags.

“This is a question a lot of people forget to ask. Will they hear from their doctor about their test results? When should they hear about a referral to a specialist?” Lindsay St. Cyr, a Cleveland Clinic Canada nurse practitioner, told Global News.

Follow up if you don’t hear back, St. Cyr said.

“All clinics try to be completely organized and stay on top of everything but things can get lost in the shuffle in the general system. If you’re on top of this yourself, you have a better chance of getting the appropriate care,” she said.

What are my options? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Pimlott said that if patients are referred to a specialist, it’s time for them to look at all of their options.

Ask questions like:

  • Are there other options that are simpler? Safer? Less burdensome?
  • What is the natural history of the problem?
  • What if I don’t do anything?
  • What are the risks and benefits of each option?

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Pimlott usually gives his patients a range of options and encourages them to write their questions down in advance, and even bring a family member with them to be a second set of ears.

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“It’s obviously best for the health care provider to fully discuss all possible treatment options and allow the patient to help form an informed decision. There are multiple ways to make an informed decision and you need to consider the risks and benefits,” St. Cyr said.

What can I do to help?

These days, many diseases are tied to lifestyle — how you eat, how often you work out and if you smoke or drink, for example.

St. Cyr loves this question because it shows that patients want to be more involved with their health care and don’t want to turn to a prescription only. They could try to lower stress levels, get more sleep or make tweaks to their diet or exercise regime.

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“A lot of patients don’t want to help themselves, a lot just want a pill to fix things. Sometimes if the patient takes control and changes their lifestyle or whatever the case may be, that could really solve the problem before it becomes an issue,” St. Cyr said.

“It’s something all providers are very happy to have patients ask. It makes them feel like patients actually care,” she said.

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What happens if I don’t take this medication or I don’t get this test?

In some cases, patients may be reticent for testing like biopsies or ultrasounds. In other instances, they may not want to take a certain medication or carry through with a treatment plan.

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“Having this conversation helps [doctors] get a sense of what [their patient] is thinking and what their preferences are,” Nnorom said.

“You can ask: if I don’t take this treatment, could things get better on their own?” Pimlott said.

What do I need to avoid when taking this prescribed medication?

Adverse medical reactions are a concern because they can lead to serious or life-threatening complications.

“When you mix prescription meds with even herbal meds, or even certain foods, you can have interactions,” St. Cyr warned.

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“It’s important to bring a list of your medications or the bottles to go over any potential risks,” she said.

Should I get a second opinion?

This question isn’t necessary for run-of-the-mill health concerns, like the common cold or the flu, but if the stakes are high, it’s worth asking.

“I don’t think for every time someone sees a specialist for an issue a second opinion is warranted but if you’re really concerned, it’s worth getting a second opinion,” Nnorom said.

“It doesn’t apply to every situation,” she said.

What resources are available to help me?

Doctors are linked to a team of professionals — registered dietitians, registered psychologists, physiotherapists and pharmacists, for example.

They’re also aware of community groups that can help with counselling. These services are available to patients even if they’re in the stages of prevention for chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension.

What are the costs?

If you’re getting a prescription or undergoing treatment, always make sure to ask if there are expenses involved that won’t be covered by your provincial health care or drug plan. In some cases, more cost-effective options could be available just in case.

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