June 2009

There’s good in asking

Did you ask more questions of your waiter when you ordered your last restaurant meal than you did of your doctor when she prescribed a new medication? Did “four doses daily” mean you were to take a dose every six hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours?

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Dr. Inga Himelright: “Your understanding can impact the quality of the care and even reduce the potential of a medical error.”

Asking your doctor questions can help you make better healthcare decisions and possibly improve your care. The answers can help you better understand your condition, evaluate options, and understand and follow your treatment plan. And, the questions you ask can assist your doctor in providing safe, quality care and the information you need.

Dr. Inga Himelright, regional medical director, BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee, tells her patients that asking questions helps them take an active role in their healthcare.

“Your understanding can impact the quality of the care and even reduce the potential of a medical error,” Himelright says. “There have been times in my life that I have taken written questions with me to the doctor. We all forget at times, particularly if the visit is during a health crisis. If you think you may forget something your doctor says, you may want to bring a friend with you to write everything down.”

The Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality recommends you ask your doctor these questions:

1. What is the test for?
2. When will I get the results?
3. How do you spell the name of that drug?
4. Will this medicine interact with medicines
I’m already taking?
5. Are there any side effects?
6. Why do I need this surgery?
7. Are there any alternatives to surgery?
8. How many times have you done this?
9. What are the possible complications?
10. Which hospital is best for my needs?

The AHRQ Web site, www.ahrq.gov, also helps you build a question list based on your personal situation. For example, if you receive a new diagnosis, some questions you should ask include:

• What is my prognosis?
• What changes will I need to make?
• What are my treatment options? n