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Wednesday, October 24, 2007 11:00 PM

Navigating Health Care: How to Ask Tough Questions of Your Doctor

Debra: We all know how important it is to communicate well with our doctors, but sometimes it can be difficult to tell our doctors what we want. Our segment today about Navigating the Health Care System is about how to ask your doctor tough questions. Welcome, Dr. Clancy.

Dr. Clancy: It’s good to be here.

Debra: We’re talking about tough questions. Let’s start with asking for a second opinion. Is my doctor going to think that I don’t trust her judgment?

Dr. Clancy: In general, you should never be afraid to get a second opinion. By getting a second opinion, you get to hear someone else’s take on this and you get a much better sense of all of the options that are available to you. A good doctor will understand the value of second opinions and will actually welcome them. However, if a doctor does object or acts extremely sensitive when you ask about a second opinion, you should consider that a red flag. It may be an indication that you need to consider getting a different physician, not just another opinion.

Debra: When should someone consider getting a second opinion?

Dr. Clancy: There are many situations when a second opinion can be very helpful. If you have a serious illness and, in particular, if you have a new diagnosis; if you’re not comfortable with the treatment that your doctor has prescribed, for example. In the case of a new diagnosis, a second opinion can actually be reassuring to you and your doctor that nothing’s been overlooked, that a fresh set of eyes has reached the same conclusion, that this is, indeed, the diagnosis at hand. Second opinions can also give you an alternative perspective on your treatment options.

Debra: What happens if a person isn’t happy with the second opinion, either?

Dr. Clancy: If you get a second opinion and you’re still not satisfied, or neither opinion is terribly clear, you may need to get a third opinion to help clarify your situation. Ultimately, you have to be comfortable and confident that you have the right diagnosis, that the right treatment has been recommended, and that you’ve got the right health care provider to work with. You have a right, and a right that you can exercise, to be involved with your own health care.

Debra: And if a patient chooses to switch providers, how does he make sure he gets his medical records from his previous doctor? Can he just ask for them or are they the property of the doctor’s office?

Dr. Clancy: This is a great question because it’s very important that the new doctor get your medical history from the previous doctor’s records. You are always entitled to see your medical records and to get copies of them. You’re probably going to need to contact the previous doctor’s receptionist or their business office and ask for copies. They may charge you a small fee for photocopying. They are going to want you to sign a form that it’s okay to do this and send it on to the next physician.

Debra: Dr. Clancy, do you have any last pieces of advice on what to do if you are just not comfortable talking to your doctor?

Dr. Clancy: It’s very important to remember that if you’re not comfortable with a doctor, it’s possible that you’re not going to follow that person’s advice no matter how good it is, and you’re going to ultimately do yourself a disservice. If you do have a problem, talk with your doctor and see if you can solve it together, but in the end, it is about your health and you’re always in charge of your health, so it’s very important to realize that you may come to a point in the road where you simply need to say this is not the best thing for me and move on.

Debra: Dr. Clancy, thank you for being here.

Dr. Clancy: Thank you.

Debra: To hear more of this interview with Dr. Clancy, please go to this program’s Web page at healthcare411.ahrq.gov.

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