Is asking your doctor questions rude?
Your doctor has years of schooling and experience. Some patients – and doctors – feel we should just do what we’re told and follow prescriptions without asking the doctor questions.
But the Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimates anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die every year in U.S. hospitals due to preventable medical errors. This means, statistically, you’re more likely to die because your doctor made a mistake than you are to die in a traffic accident.
Clearly this policy of “sit down, shut up, and do as you’re told” can literally cost you your life. But a study on the matter found women ask the doctor only six questions per 15-minute doctor visit, while men open up and ask a whopping average of… zero questions.
Sure, you or your next of kin can blame your doctor. But that’s not going to undo the harm already done. That’s why you need to ask your doctor these ten lifesaving questions to stay healthy and stay alive!
#1 — Are Your Hands Freshly Washed?
Hand washing is a basic health preserver, keeping diseases from passing between patients. Yet many doctors rush from patient to patient, not taking the time to wash their hands as much as they should.
In an observational study, doctors failed to wash their hands in 43% of situations. Medical students and internists washed their hands the most, while anesthesiologists, critical care specialists, and surgeons washed their hands least. Oh, and these were medical professionals who often knew they were being watched… and still didn’t wash their hands.
All in all, infections acquired in hospitals and clinics in the U.S. affect 1.7 million patients and contribute to more than 90,000 deaths annually. Asking your doctor if he washed his hands may prevent you from bringing home more than a prescription.
And one more IMPORTANT note: if you think that because your doctor is wearing gloves you need not worry, be sure to read our recent post, Are Your Doctor’s Hands Poisoning You?
#2 — Do You Know I’m Taking … ?
Your doctor needs to know about everything you are taking — prescription meds, over the counter drugs, and health supplements.
Yes, you probably wrote down all your medications on your intake form, but your doctor may have skimmed over that part. Ask your doctor flat out for a verbal acknowledgment and reduce your chances of becoming one of the 1.5 million people harmed by medication errors every year.
#3 — What Is Causing This?
You head to the doctor looking for an escape from pain or illness, but one of your top questions for doctor’s visits should be about what’s the root cause of your problem. Yes, you can take the pills and get the surgery, but what if you don’t have to?
What if your lower back pain is caused by sitting on a hard, straight-backed chair for eight hours a day? You could have surgery in an attempt to relieve your pain — or just get a better chair for your back.
Maybe your chronic headaches and sinus problems are caused by an allergy. You could take pills for life — or get rid of the cat. By knowing what’s behind your pain and suffering, you can make better care choices.
This question is also good for finding out if your doctor is playing guessing games with your body. Does your doctor really know what’s wrong, or is he just prescribing pills based on their best guess so they can quickly move on to the next patient?
#4 — What Are These Tests For?
Medical testing can be extremely expensive, and the hard truth is many tests are not 100% accurate. To make matters worse, litigation fears have doctors ordering extra tests to cover themselves with “defensive medicine” even if the tests aren’t really needed. It’s great business for doctors and Big Pharma, but not necessarily any good for you.
In 2009, unnecessary medical tests accounted for $6.8 billion in medical costs. Doctors inappropriately ordered tests in 56% of routine physicals, but you can put an end to unnecessary tests if you ask the doctor the right questions:
- Why do this test? Your doctor should answer with a specific reason, such as confirming the presence of a diagnostic marker for a disease or ensuring sufficient levels of a vitamin or mineral before treatment. Vague answers and no reason why the information matters is a red flag.
- What happens if the test shows …? Your doctor should explain the next steps in your care that will result from either a positive or a negative test. If there are no next steps, this could be a bill booster test for the doctor and a wallet-busting test for you.
- How do the risks of this test compare with the benefits? Over 1 million men in the last 20 years have been treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or both as a result of the P.S.A. test causing 5,000 deaths, 10,000 to 70,000 serious complications, 200,000 to 300,000 cases of impotence, and 500,000 cases of persistent blood in the urine. Yet the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force maintains the test does not save lives overall and treatments cause needless pain, impotence, and incontinence. For this and every other test, your doctor needs to give you a clear overview of why this test will help instead of hurt you.
#5 — Have You Ruled Out Other Possibilities? Why?
When your doctor gives you a diagnosis, ask about other possibilities as well. This is especially important if you are dealing with a chronic condition that doesn’t seem to be improving. All doctors are human, so their first guess may not be the right one. Plus, by knowing what else may be causing your pain and condition, you have the chance to research on your own to verify that you’re pursuing your best possible options for care.
#6 — Why Is This the Best Prescription for Me?
Nearly half of the American population takes at least one prescription drug, and one in six now takes three or more medications. That’s a lot of pills — and they may not even be the right ones.
Medical errors aside, if you consume media in any form you’ve seen or heard a drug advertisement in the last week — probably in the last few hours. Designer drugs and trendy pills are Big Pharma’s bread and butter so they want to be sure everybody knows their name.
Unfortunately for the drug industry, generics can be just as effective as brand name pills, and they’ll cost you a heck of a lot less. Ask the doctor writing your prescription why he’s choosing the pills on your list and what alternative medications might save you money.
Also considering the severely under-reported dangers of prescription drugs, ask your doctor if a drug prescription is really necessary in the first place (see #10 below).
#7 — What Are The Side Effects?
While money is an issue, the bigger issue with prescriptions is side effects. Adverse drug reactions and drug interactions are on the rise, and it doesn’t help that 50% of patients don’t even take their medication in the prescribed manner.
Your doctor should be able to clearly explain the side effects of your medication. He or she should also be able to tell you how any new pills will interact with your current medications or supplements, including early warning signs of adverse reactions or dangerous side effects.
For even more information about drug side effects and interactions, you can search the database at the Food & Drug Administration. Alternatively, check out AdverseEvents and Clarimed, independent databases of drug reactions that are a bit more user-friendly and offer free basic search results. Don’t trust U.S. data providers? Compare with Canada’s Adverse Reaction Database.
#8 — What Should I Be Doing At Home?
Little things you can do at home can make a big difference in the speed of your recovery from an illness or injury. One of your questions for the doctor should be about what you can be doing outside the doctor office to get better faster.
Proper diet, exercise, sleep and more… your body can do a lot more if you support it along the way. Ice packs, changing chairs, swapping out your cleaning supplies for greener solutions – your doctor may have some very practical suggestions for speeding up your recovery and preventing recurring problems if you just take the time to ask.
#9 — What Should I Do If … ?
A shocking 50% of people leaving the doctor don’t know what they’re supposed to do to take care of themselves — and only 15% fully understand what their doctors just told them. This confusion about care means when something isn’t going right, you don’t know what to do next.
Take a few seconds at the end of any appointment to ask your doctor what you should do about adverse reactions, changes in your condition, or symptoms that pop back up. Don’t leave confused — you came to the doctor for answers and solutions, so make sure you get them!
#10 — Are There Alternative Treatments Available?
This last question to ask your doctor may be the most important: Always, always ask your doctor about alternative treatments that may be able to help you.
Let’s face it — drugs are overprescribed and surgeries are an overused option for doctors who don’t want to “waste time” healing patients naturally. Pills and going under the knife are fast fixes, but a fast fix isn’t the same as a good fix or even a lasting one.
Instead of following the sheeple into surgery and supporting Big Pharma for the rest of your days, take charge of your own health.
At the Healthy Back Institute, we offer many of these alternative solutions through our blog, free email newsletter (subscribe at the top right of this page!), and back pain relief products. All of which provide practical, natural ways to lose the pain for good without a lifetime of bills and the potential for fatal adverse drug reactions. (See The 6 Most Effective Approaches for Natural Back Pain Relief.)
After all, why take a prescription pain killer with side effects that compromise your overall health when you can take an all-natural supplement proven to outperform the world’s top pain pills? Our own Heal-N-Soothe is safe and packed with ingredients that support your body’s own natural healing processes — ingredients made by Mother Nature instead of synthesized in some Big Pharma lab.
Why not try an alternative solution for your pain today?
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Reducing Errors in Healthcare: Translating Research into Practice. AHRQ Publication No. 00-PO58, 2000 April.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Health, United States. 2010.
Hugonet, CL et al. Hand Hygiene among Physicians: Performance, Beliefs, and Perceptions. Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol.141, pgs. 1-8, 2004 July 6.
Kale et al. Top 5″ Lists Top $5 Billion. Archives of Internal Medicine. 0: 20115012-3. 2011.
Kohn, L, et al. To Err is Human. Institute of Medicine. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 1999
Levine, Meredith. Tell the Doctor All Your Problems, but Keep It to Less Than a Minute. New York Times, 2004 June 1.
U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Screening for Prostate Cancer Recommendation Statement. 2008 August.
World Health Organization. WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care. 2009. (PDF)