If you’re like most people, you agree that the best medical care happens when you and your health care provider work together in the decision-making process. But what happens if you disagree with your doctor’s decision about treatment?

In general, many people don’t like to speak up to healthcare providers. After all, they’re the experts. You may be afraid you’ll damage your relationship or that your health care team will see you as “difficult.” You may also worry this will impact your care, and ultimately, your health.

But staying quiet about your concerns not only won’t help, but it could potentially hurt. Here’s how to navigate a difference in opinion with your health care provider.

Communicate Clearly

If you feel unsure about your doctor’s plan to treat your condition, first be sure you fully understand the facts. Get up to speed about:

  • What risks come with the treatment
  • How soon you’ll need to start treatment and how long it will it last
  • How much treatment costs and if your insurance will cover it
  • What other treatments are available -- and how they compare to your doctor’s recommended treatment

You can ask your health care provider these questions and also do research on your own. Make sure any information you find comes from a sound source with scientific research to back up its claims.

Next, prepare yourself for a constructive conversation with your doctor. Most doctors have your best interest in mind. If you go into your appointment with that mindset -- along with a healthy dose of self-advocacy -- you’ll set yourself up for success.

Tips for good communication with your doctor:

  • Write down a list of questions and concerns before your visit.
  • Bring a close friend or family member with you.
  • Take notes on what you hear (or ask a friend or family member to).
  • Ask your doctor’s office how to access your medical records so you can keep track of test results, diagnoses, treatments plans, and medications.
  • Find out the best method of communication with your health care team when you’re not in the office.

Also, be honest with your health care team about your fears, concerns, and stresses. They need the full picture of any parts of your lifestyle that could impact your well-being. If you’re not both looking at the same picture, it will be harder to agree on what will work best to treat your condition.

State Your Case

Doctors choose treatment plans largely based on facts. If you aren’t on board with the course they’ve charted for you, drill down on the actual reasons so they understand your position.

For example, you might have concerns about:

  • Cultural, spiritual, or religious beliefs that conflict with your treatment
  • Lifestyle changes your treatment requires
  • How you’ll afford treatment
  • Side effects
  • Past experiences with your treatment

Ask your doctor if there is a way for you to compromise. You may be able to meet their desire to treat your condition most effectively and your desire to address your concerns at the same time. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether to agree to a treatment plan or not.

Call On Outside Help

Another professional might be able to help ease tension between you and your health care provider. Depending on who’s available at your clinic or medical facility, you may be able to pull in a:

  • Counselor
  • Social worker
  • Chaplain

This can be especially helpful if you’d really like to stay with the same doctor you’ve always seen but aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on your current care. A third party may be able to help you work out issues and come to an agreement.

If you feel as though your doctor has been truly harmful in some way -- because of unsafe advice or conditions or unprofessional behavior -- you also have the option of filing a formal complaint, either with their office or by pursuing legal action with a malpractice suit. Although this won’t help get you treatment, it will help hold the medical community to higher standards and improve care across the board.

How Do I Go About Getting a Second Opinion?

Doctors know that seeking a second opinion is a normal part of medical care. You won’t hurt your doctor’s feelings if you get one. In fact, gathering more info can help you feel clearer about the best path forward.

You may feel less anxious about asking if you practice how you’ll broach the topic beforehand. You can say:

  • “I’m thinking of getting a second opinion. Can you recommend someone?”
  • “Before we start treatment, I’d like to get a second opinion. Will you help me with that?”
  • “If you had my medical issue, is there another doctor you would see for a second opinion?”
  • “I think I’d like to talk with another doctor to be sure I have all my bases covered.”

Be smart about your second opinion:

  • Contact your health insurance company to find out if your plan pays for them.
  • Ask your current doctor to recommend another specialist. Or consult a local hospital or clinic, or a medical association that provides a searchable database of specialty doctors.
  • Get copies of your current medical records to take with you to your second opinion.

A second opinion may also help if your first doctor isn't willing to refer you to a specialist or conduct certain tests to confirm a diagnosis.

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