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Questions To Ask Before Deciding About A Treatment

Questions To Ask Before Agreeing To A Treatment

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Ask the following questions for all treatments except surgery, chemotherapy or radiation which have questions unique to those situaitons. For those lists, click on the appropriate link.

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • What is the cause of the problem I am experiencing?
  • What is it that you are proposing? Please tell me in terms that I can understand.  Is there any written information I can read? If so, how can I get a copy?
  • What is the goal of the treatment? 
    • What are the chances the goal will be achieved?
    • Some clinical studies result in "clinical treatment guidelines" issued by a reputable medical organization. If there is such a guideline for my health situation, is the treatment within the guidelines? If not, why are you proposing something different?
    • Is the treatment based on clinical studies of what works best and what does not, or is it based on informed opinion, personal observation or tradition?  If based on a published study, if I want to look at it what is the study and where (and how) can I find it?
    • If the goal is to eliminate my condition, what are chances it will return?
  • What are the benefits?
  • How long will the benefits last?
  • What are the risks?
  • What are the alternatives? What are the benefits and risks of those alternatives?
    • What about clinical trials? (cutting edge treatments)
    • With respect to other treatment options, what are the benefits, risks and costs?       
    • Why do you recommend one treatment over another?
    • What is the cost effectiveness of the various treatments?
  • What is your reasoning for favoring this particular treatment?
  • If you are age 65 or over: Ask whether your age has anything to do with the recommendation. Some doctors have a bias against recommending certain treatments to older people, even though age has not been proved to be relevant.
  • How much experience have you had prescribing or performing the recommended treatment (for example, over how many years and how many patients)? What have your results been?
  • How long and how often will I have this treatment?
  • What will the effect be on my work? For instance:
    • Will I be unable to work at all? If so, for how long?
    • Will I need an accommodation to permit me to do my work? For instance, flex time so I can go to work late. Or time off for treatments or recovery?
    • How long will I need an accomodation?
    • How will I know if I am overdoing it at work?
    • Are you available to speak with my supervisor if that would be helpful?
  • If I take this treatment, are there other treatments that I will not be able to take in the future because I took this treatment?
  • How will we know if the treatment is working? How long will it be before we know?
  • Will the treatment be painful? If so, what can be done to control the pain?
  • Will there be other side effects? What can be done to prevent or minimize unwanted side effects?
  • How will the treatment interact with other drugs or treatments I may be using?
  • Will the treatment affect my daily life? If so,
    • In what way?
    • For how long?
  • How much will the treatment cost? 
    • Does my insurance cover the cost of treatment?  (If you do not have insurance, for information about getting care without insurance, see: Uninsured.)
    • How much will I have to pay out-of-pocket? 
      • When?
      • Can that amount be reduced?
  • Will the treatment prevent me from getting other treatments in the future?
  • "If you had a child of your own in my situation, what would you suggest he or she do?" (With a question stated like this, you can find out what the doctor thinks without putting him or her on the spot of seemingly being asked to make a decision for you.)
  • What would happen if I choose to delay treatment? To have no treatment at all?
  • Do you recommend that I obtain a second opinion from another doctor? If not, why not? (For information about obtaining second opinions, click here.)
  • Will I be asked to sign a consent form before undergoing the treatment? If so, can I get a copy now or at least before I have to make final decision? (Consent forms list all the risks of a treatment).
  • Do you have a financial interest in my decision, one way or the other?
  • Ask a "catch all" question such as "Is there anything else you would ask if you were me, or anything else that I should be aware of?"
  • If I do some research about the treatment and have additional questions, when can I ask them?
If you are a member of an HMO or other managed care health insurance plan, ask:
  • Does the insurer provide financial incentives for doctors to use a preferred treatment?
  • Is the doctor prohibited from informing you about treatment options other than the one or ones approved by the managed care company? This is a practice known as "gagging."  Gagging is supposed to be a thing of the past. However, it is still worth confirming that you have been advised of all of your treatment options.
  • Does the plan limit your doctor's choice to order treatments and make referrals if a patient's needs go beyond the plan's protocols?

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