Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How Important is it to Research Your Condition?

How important is it for you to know as much as you can about your condition before you even enter the doctor's office?

I used to think it was essential to show up with a folder full of JAMA articles and research papers from people with Johns Hopkins' pedigrees.  Richard, my partner, and I would divide up search terms and print reams of articles.  I used to think this made me credible and more likely to assist my doctor in naming and curing my condition.  I now know doctors mostly find it annoying.  That's only partly because some want to be the expert in the room; most often they get annoyed because for each study, there are a dozen flaws in the research methodology, and other studies with opposite findings.

Now I find that while it's useful to research my condition, it's even more important to find great doctors and ask them great questions.

Several years ago, I had a pain in my left knee that wouldn't go away no matter how hard I ignored it.  Finally I went to see an orthopedist.  She recommended an X-ray and an MRI to see if anything were broken or torn.  I was ready to sign on the dotted lines when Richard, who had accompanied me to  the appointment, asked, "What if we just rest the knee, ice it, take ibuprofen and see what happens?  Will that do any harm?"  The doctor replied that this approach would do no harm and might resolve the issue.  I asked her why she didn't recommend that in the first place.  She said, "I'm an orthopedist.  This is how I work." 

It's all about the questions (and about bringing your partner or a friend with you to remember to ask them). Here are some of the basics:
  1. What's the diagnosis and why do you think so?
  2. What else might it be?
  3. What diagnostic tests should we do? What will they show and not show? What are the risks?
  4. What if we wait and watch?
  5. What treatment options are there?  What are their benefits and risks?
And here's a great one a friend who accompanied us to a consultation with a surgeon asked:
  1. If there were a surgeon with as much intelligence and experience as you sitting in an exam room somewhere else in the country, what might he or she say or recommend that would be different from what you have just told us?

What questions have you found it helpful to ask your doctors or practitioners?

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