Going to a Doctor’s office is not easy

Being prepared for your doctor’s visit is of paramount importance.

When you are in a doctor’s office for an injury or a painful condition you are likely to be nervous. People are often nervous about:

  • their diagnosis
  • whether or not you need surgery, and
  • whether your lifestyle is about to change.

The research on patient recall about what their doctor said is not good. Most of us remember no more than 20% of what you were told, and you will often forget to ask about issues, options or concerns.

It’s More Important Than Ever That You Are Prepared

With all the changes taking place across healthcare, the end result is that your doctor has less time to spend with you … or in the new factory medical office models that some physician groups utilize you might not even see the doctor, you might only see their assistant.  Equally concerning, the law of unintended consequences following the ACA and dwindling reimbursements has led many practices to seek to maximize revenues by recommending patients for surgery too early, or unnecessarily.

  • Perhaps it is appropriate to consider surgery in your case.
  • Perhaps it’s not.
  • How do you know?
  • How should you prepare yourself so you can make an informed decision?
  • The question is not “can we operate”, the question is “should we operate”.

questions for doctorThe way to avoid being a statistic who can’t remember most of what the doc said – or, worse, one who got unnecessary surgery is to be pro-active.  Many people are afraid to speak up in a physicians office, but this should not be the case.  Their office, and your physician is there to treat you. You and many patients before you are the reason their office is open for business.  You need to ask to see the physician, and you need to be prepared to ask the physician a set of questions you prepared before entering their office.

Injuries Are On The Rise, Doctors Recommend Surgery More Often

Over the years many trends have emerged.  Some of these trends are the reason for your visit, and other trends are the reason you need to know what to ask.  Just some of those trends include:

  1. Childhood injuries are on the rise: Children and teens are more active early in life — the loss of seasonality in many sports and single sport specialization is leading to a significant number of serious injuries in our children.
  2. Overuse injuries in adults are on the rise too.  People are staying active longer in life.  They are battling the bulge and pushing themselves harder than previous generations.  And they have no intention of stopping.
  3. Surgery might not be as necessary as we once thought for certain conditions.  Not all worn out parts need to be repaired for us to lead an active life.  Papers are emerging showing that many meniscus tears do not require surgery, knee arthroscopy for arthritis is worthless in many cases, certain rotator cuff tears can be treated with physical therapy, and many people with ACL tears do just as well without reconstruction.
  4. There has been an increase in the number of arthroscopic surgeries of the knee and the shoulder. As we age, things start to wear out. MRI machines are becoming far more sensitive. We have entered the age of high tech, low touch medicine.  Many treatment recommendations are being based solely on the MRI findings, despite the fact that many of the changes that show up on your MRI often do not require surgery or are simply a normal consequence of aging, genetics and activity.

Even with the emergence of the smart phone and many other technologies such as electronic medical records and I-phone apps, it is clear that a simple pad and a pen remain the two objects you need to bring to your doctors visit.

The Top 5 Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  1. What is my diagnosis?  You will want to write this down.  Be precise, because you will be searching this term after you leave the office.
    1. Ask if there are any other associated keywords to search.
    2. If your doctor is not willing to educate you, consider moving on.
  2. Options: What are the evidence-based (if available) recommendations to treat my condition?
    1. non-surgical options
    2. surgical options
  3. Complications : This is in two parts.
    1. what complications could arise from NOT having surgery?
    2. what are the potential complications of surgery?
  4. Volume matters! how many of these surgeries have you performed?
    1. Again, if the doctor seems offended by this question or doesn’t want to answer, it’s not a good sign. As good as a doctor may be, s/he must be on your side at all times.
  5. What are your goals for my treatment plan?  Having realistic goals is critical. Do not assume that your goals and your physician’s goals are one and the same.
    1. Does your physician think your pain will go away?
    2. Will there be any residual functional deficits?  Things you still can’t do at 100%, even after you recover?
    3. Will I be able to return to X,Y or Z activity if I do or do not have surgery?

Being prepared for your doctors visit is critical.  With the emergence of the aforementioned trends a second or third opinion might be important . If you have documented your first visit well then you will be in a better position to ask the appropriate questions of the physician you are seeing for another opinion.  In addition, when your loved one, or your caregiver or friend ask you what’s wrong, you will be able to pull out your pad and have a meaningful conversation — which hopefully leads to better informed and less stressful medical decision making.

Disclaimer:  this information is for your education and should not be considered medical advice regarding diagnosis or treatment recommendations. Some links on this page may be affiliate links. Read the full disclaimer.

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About the author:

Howard J. Luks, MD

Howard J. Luks, MD

A Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon in Hawthorne, NY. Dr. Howard Luks specializes in the treatment of the shoulder, knee, elbow, and ankle. He has a very "social" patient centric approach and believes that the more you understand about your issue, the more informed your decisions will be. Ultimately your treatments and his recommendations will be based on proper communications, proper understanding, and shared decision-making principles – all geared to improve your quality of life.