Paging Dr. Frischer: Questions to ask your doctor

You just left your doctor’s office…and are now kicking yourself for forgetting to ask important questions! You’re not alone. 

I’m quite aware of this, and often find myself instructing my patients, “Here are some questions you should be asking me.” My goal is to teach my patients to think like a doctor, and to get the most out of a visit. 

Remember that I work for you, and it is up to both of us to help you make the best possible choices regarding your health care.

When you leave a doctor, you should have a good understanding of your overall health picture.

Ask any of these questions, as necessary:
■ What is wrong with me?
■ If my diagnosis is uncertain, what are the possibilities?
■ Why do I have this problem?
■ How do I get rid of it?
■ How can I prevent it from happening again?

Were you prescribed medicine? If you don’t know the answer to every question below, then be sure to speak with the doctor, staff, or pharmacist:
■ Is this medicine to be taken with or without food or other medications?
■ Is it to be taken at a particular time of day?
■ What are the side effects?
■ What is the likelihood that it will be effective? 
■ What might happen if I choose not to take it?

Did your doctor recommend a test?
■ What is the name of the test(s)?
■What specifically is the doctor looking for?
■ Does the test come with any risks?
■ What will happen if I choose not to take the test?
■ When will I receive test results, and from whom?
■ What is the next step?

 Did your doctor refer you to a specialist?
■ What kind of doctor is the specialist?
■ What will they do that is different from what your primary care doctor is doing?
■ When will I follow up with the specialist and with my primary care doctor?
Your doctor has been trained to look at the big picture, and to develop an overall roadmap of where your care is headed. You should have a good understanding of this as well. If you are facing cancer or another serious disease, your care can become quite complex. How will you analyze different courses of treatment? Should you see a specialist, or get a second opinion? When should you be scouring the Internet for information? How should you manage the well meaning, but often-untrained friends and family members who offer their “expert” opinions?

Remember that this is your life, and your care. If you are comfortable with the answers to your questions, than follow the recommended plan. Otherwise, you can choose to look elsewhere for healthcare. When facing serious health issues, you will need to establish a support system made up of your doctor, your family, and your community. Use them, according to their own particular strengths, to help you through a difficult time.

Always remember that your doctor is working for you. He or she wants to make a positive difference in the lives of their patients. Arrive at the appointment prepared. Help your doctor to help you get the very most out of the health care system, and to achieve your very best possible state of health. 

Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.