Doctors often have only a short period of time with each person they see for routine examinations. (Of course, there is also time out of the exam room that is spent reviewing the chart and records.) The experience can be confusing and frustrating when communication on one or both sides is lacking, particularly if you're given new information to process or new instructions to follow.
Although a visit to the doctor's office can be intimidating, you can ease the stress and worry by taking steps to be sure that you're provided with all the information you need. There are also ways you can improve the quality of your care by helping your doctor develop the best understanding possible of your symptoms, condition, and wishes regarding treatment.
Before the appointment, write down a list of things you need to tell the doctor. Note any concerns or questions you may have. Also write down the names and dosages of any prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or supplements you are taking. It is very important to take this list with you to the appointment; don't count on remembering every single item. Before you leave the office, go over the list to be sure you've covered everything. This simple step helps both you and your doctor by keeping the discussion focused and ensuring that all your concerns are addressed.
Some of the questions below may be worth asking.
- How reliable are digital rectal exams and prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests?
- What stage is my cancer in, and what does that mean for my prognosis?
- What are the costs, benefits, and risks of each treatment option that's appropriate for me?
- How do I decide what is the best treatment option for me personally?
- Is there any indication that the cancer has spread?
- Can my condition go untreated without adverse health consequences?
- Will I become impotent?
- Can I continue my normal activities during treatment?
- How long will treatment take?
- Will there be any long-term consequences of my treatment?
Don't hesitate to say "I don't understand." Doctors are human and may not always know when they haven't explained something well or in terms you can understand. Never feel embarrassed or shy about asking your doctor to clarify something they say. When in doubt, repeat what your doctor has told you and ask if you've got it right. You can also ask if they recommend any specific reading materials about your condition.
If your doctor asks questions that sound embarrassing or overly personal, remember that this information lets them better establish a diagnosis or determine which treatment is most appropriate for you. Never fib in response to questions about alcohol or drug use, sexual history, or other lifestyle matters. Be honest about the extent to which you are taking your prescriptions or following a treatment plan. Withholding the truth can affect the quality of your care and can even lead to a wrong diagnosis or treatment.
Finally, the office medical assistants and nurses can be other sources of information. Do not hesitate to ask them questions about your concerns as well.
Preparation for your doctor's visit is a vital step toward becoming a partner in your health care and an advocate for your health and well-being. A good doctor will always encourage your desire to understand as much as possible about your condition and will welcome your active participation in your care.