Perhaps you remember: Your sweaty palms. Your racing heart, pounding all the way up to your ears. Your parched tongue, stumbling over the words.
And this was just practice. . . in the mirror. You wouldn’t actually propose until the next day.
But you did practice for that conversation. You probably practiced for many of your most important conversations: first job interview, first date, last big sales pitch or meeting with the boss. Unfortunately, we usually fail to prepare for the conversations on which life and health directly depend; conversations with our doctors.
Do you know how to talk to your doctor?
Do you know why to talk to your doctor?
Trust me (I am a doctor) when I tell you that the phrase “Trust me, I’m a doctor” is simply not enough to go on. Not that I want you to mistrust your doctor or develop an adversarial relationship with your doctor. No. I want you to trust your doctor and ask your doctor to trust you with the full truth about your health.
Why You Need to Be Ready
When you step into that clinic room and don that silly paper gown, it feels like you have already placed yourself firmly within the doctor’s realm, as if you are already under the knife. Not so. Really, you have just invited the physician into your world. That physician works for you, not the other way around. Don’t let the doctor leave the room before explaining what has happened while he or she was there.
I’m not suggesting that you disrespect or treat your physician rudely. Just think of your physician less as an omnipotent provider of technical care and more as a coach for your health. You would never hit the field before making quite sure you understood what your coach had in mind for the next play. You would ask questions of any coach you really respected so that you could understand the plan going forward. Your doctor is no different.
You must understand your health and your health care so that you can take responsibility for them. You don’t need to take responsibility for your health alone, or only with the help of Dr. Google – you should take responsibility for your health with the personal coaching of your physicians. They cannot fill you in on their 11 to 18 years of training in five minutes, but they can help you understand — in your terms — what you are up against, how they are reasoning through your case, and what recommendations they are selecting.
You see, medicine is never as black and white as it may first appear. Unlike your mechanic, your doctor doesn’t have one of those nifty little diagnostic gadgets to plug in and find out exactly what’s wrong. Your doctor will have to guess well. He or she will guess better if you are on the same team.
Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor
1. What other diseases or conditions were on the list you considered to explain my symptoms?
2. How did you arrive at this diagnosis from that list?
3. Where do you stand in the range of opinions within your field on this topic?
4. How is the plan you recommend similar or different from the plan I would get if seeing your colleague across town?
5. What are the best-case-, worst-case-, and most likely scenarios I will face as my condition or this treatment unfolds?
Kevin B. Jones, M.D., author of What Doctors Cannot Tell You: Clarity, Confidence and Uncertainty in Medicine, studied English literature at Harvard and medicine at Johns Hopkins. After training in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Iowa and in surgical musculoskeletal oncology at the University of Toronto, he settled in Salt Lake City with his wife and four children. He sees patients and does research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the University of Utah.