How to Make Informed Medical Decisions

Making health care decisions can be scary. Whether your primary care physician is recommending an invasive test for diagnosis or your specialist is proposing surgery to help treat a chronic condition, you need to be able to consider and make your medical decisions with a level head. Of course, when you’re sick or injured it can be difficult to approach your care in an organized way. That’s why we’ve designed a ten step process for considering serious medical decisions:

  1. Describe the Problem
    When you go into your appointment you should be able to answer a series of questions about your symptoms and pains. Try to keep track of when the problem arises, if it’s worse during a certain time of day, and how you have managed it effectively. Also, be prepared to discuss you and your family’s medical history, allergies you have, medications you day, and your daily habits.
  2. Ask for a Diagnosis
    Once your physician gives you a diagnosis, ask him to explain it in detail. If there is some aspect of your condition that you don’t understand – ask questions! It may be a good idea to bring a trusted family member or friend with you as your advocate; they will be able to help ask questions and hear the doctor’s directions.
  3. Know the Treatment
    Do you need medication? Physical therapy? Additional testing? Ask for your proposed treatment plan in the most clear and simple terms possible. If surgery is mentioned, you may want to consider a second opinion (this is required by some health insurance plans). If a test is prescribed, ask about the procedure.
  4. Weigh the Benefits
    Medical treatments change over time as researchers learn more and technology improves. Make certain that you and your health care provider have access to the latest and best information on your treatment options. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that one strong reason can stand alone to justify going ahead with treatment. In many cases, two or more not-so-strong reasons may not be enough. Don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns with your doctor; that’s why they’re here.
  5. Learn the Risks
    Weigh the risks and benefits before you decide to proceed with treatment. Ask about the potential hazards before you get any test or x-ray, no matter how minor it may be. If you are not asked about allergies, state them ahead of time.
  6. Find Out Costs
    The cost of care is becoming increasingly important in the current economic climate. To ensure that you are getting the maximum benefit you may want to do a little extra research. For instance, check with your insurance company to find out your coverage, and ask what you can do to maximize your coverage. Don’t forget to calculate related costs – medication, time off work, childcare, and transportation can all add up.
  7. Calculate the Success Rates
    Is this surgery or procedure effective? According to several studies, you are less likely to suffer complications for surgery if you go to an accredited hospital that performs a large number of procedures each year. Your physician can help you learn a facility’s accreditation status and the procedure’s success rate.
  8. Research Other Options
    If you have concerns about your diagnosis or treatment plan, do some extra research; there is usually more than one treatment option available. Sometimes, the best choice at the time may be no choice, or a “wait and see” approach. If you want to consider other options consult with your physician about your choices: What might happen if I decide to do nothing? What are my options? What are the newest ways to treat my condition? If you are still not satisfied with you options, considering consulting another healthcare provider.
  9. Set Your Schedule
    When is the best time to start your treatment plan? Don’t assume that your procedure has to be done as soon as possible – you may be able to delay the treatment until a time that best suits your schedule.
  10. Make a Decision
    After you get the answers from steps 1-9 above, decide what you’re going to do. Remember, you can always decide to refuse treatment, but you should ask your physician what could happen if you do this. If you feel rushed or uncomfortable at any time, slow down and share your concerns with your doctor.

Are you experiencing a medical issue and looking for guidance? Find an experienced, family doctor who can help you make informed decisions about your health.

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