By Jason Stevenson
“Do you have any questions?”
That’s how most doctors and nurses end their visits with patients.
But too few of us take them up on that offer. Sometimes we can’t think of any questions, and other times we’re too intimidated by medical lingo to ask for more details.
But getting patients to talk is how medical providers do their jobs best.
Despite modern medicine’s high-tech scans and tests, the most important tool of discovery remains the simple conversation between a patient and a provider.
“When patients ask me questions it makes their medical care cheaper,” explains Jose Esparza, a family nurse practitioner at the Ellis R. Shipp Community Health Center in West Valley City. “The more I find out about their symptoms, the more accurate I can be in diagnosing their problem and ruling out expensive tests and procedures.”
Plus, there’s medical evidence that talking to your doctor works.
A 2014 study from Canada determined that patients who had meaningful conversations with physical therapists about their chronic back pain reported a 55 percent decrease in symptoms even when they didn’t receive medical treatment. This compares to 25 percent of patients who reported less pain with the same fake treatment but no active conversation with their provider.
Jose Esparza likes his patients to be proactive and interested in their health. He has been practicing medicine in the Salt Lake City area for five years. Here are the 10 questions that he wishes all of his patients would ask him.
How much will this cost?
Even if you have health insurance, you are responsible for most of the cost until you meet your annual deductible “Remember that the most expensive medication doesn’t mean it works the best,” says Esparza. “Generic drugs are often just as good.”
How does this medication interact with other drugs?
In addition to allergies, make sure your provider knows about other medications you might be taking. Some combinations can be dangerous. “Patients never ask me about interactions between medications,” says Esparza. “But if you are taking contraceptives and I give you a certain antibiotic, it could make you become pregnant.”
Is there another treatment I could consider?
Most medical problems have more than one treatment or solution. “It’s okay to ask your doctor if there’s another approach you could take,” suggests Esparza.
Can these pills be addictive?
If you or anyone in your immediate family has ever had any trouble with addiction or addictive behavior, tell your provider so that they can prescribe medications that won’t get you hooked.
What are the risks of this test or procedure?
Almost every medication or procedure has some risk. Beyond the short-term side effects, ask about the longer-term risks that might occur months or years in the future, especially if you plan to become pregnant.
How many times have you done this procedure?
Some patient has to be a doctor’s first, just don’t let it be you. If a medical resident or student is doing the procedure, make sure an experienced doctor is supervising them.
Can we do something that doesn’t involve radiation?
X-rays, PET scans, and CT scans see inside your body using radiation, which can trigger cancer. Other imaging like ultrasounds and MRIs don’t use radiation.
How do you spell the name of this drug?
Besides double-checking the notorious bad handwriting of doctors, you should know the names of both the commercial and generic versions of the drugs prescribed to you.
Do you have any commercial or business relationship with this medicine or medical device?
Some providers receive fees or reimbursements from drug companies and device companies. You have a right to know if your provider is financially rewarded for prescribing a specific treatment.
What is the risk of doing nothing?
“I wish more of my patients would ask me about waiting to see if their problem fixes itself,” says Esparza. Not only is this the cheapest option, but it also avoids potentially harmful side effects.
Jason Stevenson manages public outreach, private insurance reform, social media, and communications strategies for the Utah Health Policy Project (UHPP), a nonpartisan, nonprofit health reform advocacy organization. He also serves on West View Media’s Board of Directors.