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5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Setting up a visit to your doctor’s office may be a little intimidating, especially since doctors today aren’t able to spend nearly as much time with you as in years past.

Even when you’re finally able to have a few minutes alone with your doctor, he or she may discuss your health using confusing medical terms.

This can lead to trouble fully understanding your health problems, and uncertainty about what to do. Dr. Neil Spector, who once found himself in a similar position with a serious medical issue, believes there are five important questions you should ask your doctor for better clarity.

What Tests Are Being Ordered?

There are countless illnesses that can be misdiagnosed, sending your doctor on a wild goose chase that focuses on the wrong things. As a patient, you need to ask your doctor about more than just the tests being ordered. How will results impact treatment decisions? What are the potential pitfalls of interpreting the results?

According to Dr. Spector, many tests do not provide a simple “black and white” result, and unsure physicians may ask for more tests, which may eventually lead to invasive procedures. Unlike the past, when visits to the doctor involved a comprehensive physical exam, today’s medicine has become much more test oriented. The new, test-driven medical field can be dangerous for patients who allow their doctors to continue ordering assessments until "something shows up."

What Can You Do to Improve Your Condition?

Depending on your condition, you might find out that you’ll need to fill a certain prescription or get a medical device like a pacemaker. But what can YOU do to improve your condition?

As Dr. Spector points out, there are many factors under your control: nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, mindfulness. All can easily be ignored or glazed over during a discussion with your physician; but each of those areas can be just as important as medication. Ask your doctor what you can do to achieve a better, healthier outcome.

What Are Alternative Ways to Help with Treatment?

If your doctor is discussing medication, ask about nutrition and alternative treatments you may be able to implement. When it comes to alternative treatments, there are numerous online and print resources you can take advantage of to gain new knowledge and/or ideas. Using this wealth of information can improve your understanding and supplement your mainstream treatments in order to provide a well-rounded approach.

Is There a Clinical Trial You Can Participate In?

Serious illnesses, such as cancer, may not have a standard procedure to follow in terms of treatment options. In these cases, it’s important to ask about any clinical trials you may be able to take part in. It’s important to ask about the risks and benefits of these trials. If the risk outweighs the benefits, it might not be worth pursuing.

What Are the Risks and Benefits of Treatment?

If your doctor is going to perform a procedure on you, or has recommended a surgeon, ask questions specific to your surgery. Be sure to find out about risks, complications, and who will be operating on you. Sometimes you may get the head of surgery, which sounds good on paper, but may not be to your benefit. Ask how often he or she has done that type of procedure; if the answer is only “once or twice in the last year,” it may be time to look for someone who has performed it more frequently.

In the accompanying audio segment, Dr. Neil Spector shares the five questions you should ask your doctor the next time you're at an appointment.
5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Featured Speaker:
neil Neil Spector is the co-director of the developmental therapeutics program at the Duke Cancer Institute, Duke University Medical Center. He is a Komen Scholar (one of 50 global leaders in breast cancer research) and a Sandra P. Coates Associate Professor in Breast Cancer Research.

He has been published in over 60 publications and journals, including the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Oncogene, Cancer Research, and The Journal of Clinical Oncology.

He has won multiple awards, including the Wayne Rundles Award (excellence in cancer research, Duke University Medical Center), the Wendell Rosse Excellence in Teaching Award (awarded to the best faculty mentor as voted by the Duke medical oncology fellows), and the Claudia Adams Barr Award in Cancer Research (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School).

He resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his wife, daughter, and two dogs, where he enjoys running, playing tennis, traveling, and is an avid reader of books related to the mind-body connection.

Alonso is a long-time health and wellness advocate who loves to write about it. His writing spans the scope of blogs, educational magazines, and books, both on and offline.