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Handbook for Mortals : Talking With Your Doctor

Situations: "I read somewhere"

Doctor: Do you have any questions?
Patient: Doc, I know you said nothing will cure this disease, but last week I read in a magazine about something new . . .

Some people like to be very involved in researching their illnesses, diagnostic tests, and treatment options. This may mean asking other people how they've fared with the same disease or doing research on the Internet or in a medical library. Your involvement may vary depending on how well you feel and how far along you may be in the course of your disease. The reception you get from your doctor may also vary. She might listen intently, offer to take the information, and research it further.

She might listen briefly, then tell you why such an idea is experimental, unsupported by the evidence, or just fanciful. Or she might cut you off, telling you that such articles are nonsense and she would have told you if there was something else to try. You are the only one who can decide which of these responses is acceptable to you on any given day. If you are bothered that your doctor is not taking your concerns or ideas seriously (and you do not want to change doctors), you have several choices. You can try the "direct approach" by saying, "I want to know more about this treatment that I was reading about." But be careful of the overly direct approach: "I'm the one who's sick, and I want you to listen to this!" While it gets your point across, it is more likely to encourage your doctor to hide from you than to consider the alternative you are trying to discuss.

You might rely on plain curiosity and ask, "I was just wondering about this treatment that I recently read about." It is still an honest question. If this feels like a weak approach to you, you might be concerned that your doctor will not take your question seriously. If you feel that you or your question is dismissed, you can have an insistent follow-up ready.

Doctor: That's nonsense. I'll tell you about anything that will help you.
Patient: Well, I'd still appreciate hearing what you know about it.

Being insistent is not being rude. It does not make you a "bad patient." Some doctors do become abrupt when questioned about new treatments. They may feel that their knowledge or judgment is being questioned. On the other hand, they may be worried that you are denying your illness by grasping at "treatments" that will not help you (and may harm you in some way). Still, you should be comfortable asking your questions, even if you do not like the answers. If your doctor is unacceptably exasperated or brusque when you ask questions, you can be direct without being apologetic. Try saying, "I hope it doesn 't bother you to talk about other treatments, even if you don't think they will help. After all, it is important to me to feel that I've made the best choices I could." If you find your doctor to be frankly hostile, it may be time to save your energy and consider changing doctors.

To learn more about the book "Handbook for Mortals" click here.