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Wednesday, February 13, 2008 2:00 PM

Navigating Health Care: Tips for Taking Medical Tests and Getting the High Quality Care you Deserve

Debra: If your doctor ordered blood tests, X-rays, and other screenings but you weren’t sure why, would you ask questions? In this segment on Navigating the Healthcare System, AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy talks about how asking questions when you are told to have medical tests is key to getting safer, higher quality health care. Dr. Clancy, welcome.

Dr. Clancy: Thank you for having me.

Debra: Dr. Clancy, why is it important to speak up if you don’t know why your doctor is ordering a particular test or if you don’t understand how it may help?

Dr. Clancy: Ultimately, you make the decisions about your body and your health care. But you need information to make the best, most-informed decisions. So ask questions! How is the test done? What kind of information will the test provide? Is this test the only way to find out that information? What of the benefits and risks of this test? Navigating the health care system is easier when you collaborate with your clinician and get the answers you need.

Debra: So, besides understanding why I might need the test, what else should I ask my clinician?

Dr. Clancy: It’s really important to ask your doctor if you need to prepare in any way for the exam. For example, should you avoid eating or drinking for a certain time period prior to the test? Also, if you are concerned, ask what the test will feel like and if there will be any discomfort. Ask if you’re going to be awake or asleep during the test and is there any type of recovery? If you’re planning on going back to work, you need to know this. Will there be any side effects? Another important question is How accurate is this test?

Debra: And what if I don’t feel like I really need the test?

Dr. Clancy: It is okay, it’s more than okay to question your doctor about a medical test and discuss why he or she thinks you need it. If you’re very concerned about it, seek a second opinion.

Debra: What about getting the results of the tests that I do choose to have?

Dr. Clancy: That’s a very important question. You should always ask your doctor’s office about its policy on informing patients about their results. Find out when they’ll be available, and whether they will call you or whether you are expected to call them. Don’t assume if you don’t hear anything that no news is good news. There should always be a follow-up even if it’s just so your clinician can tell you the test results were normal and there is no need for further tests at this time. Remember, quality matters especially when it comes to your health.

Debra: Dr. Clancy, thanks for joining us.

Dr. Clancy: My pleasure.

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