Top Docs 2008 Part V: Advice from Top M.D.s

On talking to doctors

• Never hesitate to ask questions. If the answer you get makes no sense, ask again. If you don’t get a clear, succinct, and thoughtful response, get a new doctor. —Dr. Michael Muto, gynecologic oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

[sidebar]• Invite your doctor to sit down when talking to you, either in the office or in the hospital. This small act improves the tone and substance of every conversation. —Dr. Raphael Bueno, thoracic surgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

• When trying to make a treatment decision, patients occasionally ask me, "What would you do if you had this medical issue? Or if your child had this medical issue?" This is a very powerful question that makes your doctor reflect deeper and can help you get to the right answer. —Dr. Mininder Kocher, orthopedic surgery, Children’s Hospital Boston

• Don’t let your doctor speak too fast or use vocabulary you don’t understand. The doctor’s goal is to make you better, but he or she may not always be able to estimate your level of understanding! —Dr. Cynthia Kretschmar, pediatric hematology/oncology, Tufts Medical Center Floating Hospital for Children

• Always be honest with me, even if it means you are not following my recommendations. I won’t be angry, and it will help me to better care for you. —Dr. Warren J. Manning, cardiovascular disease, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

• The best patient is one who truly partners with his or her physician, nurse, and healthcare team as an active participant in all aspects of care. Ask questions until you understand your disease and treatment recommendations, and agree with the plan. —Dr. Lawrence N. Shulman, medical oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

• Today more than ever, physicians are under pressure to see more patients in less time. So it’s a big help when patients facilitate the process by having an accurate record of their medications and by answering questions as succinctly as possible. For example:

Physician: "Mr. Jones, how long have you had your pain?"
Right-answer patient: "About two months."
Wrong-answer patient: "Oh, a long time."
Physician: "How long is that?"
Wrong-answer patient: "Oh, I just can’t say."
Physician: "Well, please estimate as best you can."
Wrong-answer patient: "Let me see…it was about the time that my sister-in-law’s dog died. No, maybe it was before that. She told me it might be diverticulitis. What is diverticulitis, anyway, doc?"

You get the idea. The latter deteriorates into a prolonged, low-quality encounter and a frustrated physician. —Dr. Paul Shellito, colon and rectal surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital