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6 Things Your Doctor May Have Trouble Telling You

What your doctor may not mention could matter to your health.

5. “This is risky.”

Just about every drug and surgical procedure poses risks to the patient. Even something as seemingly benign as a course of antibiotics can cause diarrhea, yeast infections, allergic reactions, and other unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects.

Yet some doctors understate the risks posed by the treatments they recommend.

Similarly, when doctors order X-rays, cardiac catheterizations, and other diagnostic tests, they sometimes fail to explain the risks. These include the risk of a false-positive (indicating a medical problem that doesn’t exist), which can lead to needless anxiety and to even more tests.

”Doctors are very good at talking about benefits,” says Newman. “They’re not good at talking about risks.”

What to do: Ask the doctor to explain any risks posed by a recommended test or treatment.

6. "I don't have anything to offer you."

Some doctors may paint an overly optimistic picture when talking about life-threatening ailments, Newman says. Some encourage patients to undergo debilitating treatments when these are almost certain to fail. Even when death is imminent, Newman says, many doctors put off talking about it out of a sense of failure.

“Giving bad news makes us feel bad,” says Arnold. “Sometimes we feel inadequate and worry that our patients will blame us.” If you’d like the doctor not to pull punches when talking about your prognosis, say so, says Frankel.

What to do: Newman recommends talking to your doctor about end-of-life care while you’re still healthy. Do you want doctors to do everything possible to save your life, even if there’s little chance of survival? Or would you prefer to forgo treatment likely to keep you on a ventilator and a feeding tube? Either way, let your doctor know.

In addition to talking with your doctor, it’s prudent to draw up an advance directive that allows you to detail your wishes regarding end-of-life care and designate a health-care proxy (someone to direct your care in the event that you are incapacitated). And of course, communicate your wishes to your loved ones

Reviewed on May 25, 2010

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