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50+: Live Better, Longer

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6 Things Your Doctor May Have Trouble Telling You

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

4. “I’m not sure you got what I said.” continued...

To avoid misunderstanding, doctors could initiate a back-and-forth discussion with their patients. But not all do.

“Doctors are not good about assessing the patient’s understanding of our explanations,” says Dean Schillinger, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. “We’re infamous for saying, ‘Are you clear about what I’ve told you?’ What we should be doing is asking patients to restate what we’ve told them.”

What to do: At the end of your appointment, if your doctor doesn't ask you to recap what they've told you, do so anyway, Schillinger suggests. Simply tell the doctor you want to make sure you understand, and then use your own words to relate what you think you were told.

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.

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