When you go to the doctor it’s typically for a specific problem, such as a cold, stomach pain or other issue that you want to get better. But often in their haste to be cured, patients fail to ask doctors questions about their health and take advantage of the short amount of time with the one person who can decipher their blood test results or explain how to take their newly prescribed medications. Doctors say they wish their patients would be more proactive and ask these questions during their visit.
As doctors, we ask a lot of questions. But we want you to ask us questions too. It can’t just be one sided. Asking questions is one of the rights that patients have when they visit their doctors. So here today are the questions which are important for the patients to always ask their doctors.
• Am I contagious?
Yes it’s a very obvious question, and yet not so clear. For example, with the flu, you can be contagious one day prior having symptoms and you can stay contagious for up to even seven days. That’s why it’s really important to ask your doctor, so we can give you guidance on how to prevent you from spreading, like sneezing in your elbows, washing your hands, avoiding touching your face; these simple actions can save lives especially at this very time when we are strongly recommending everyone to take protective measures against this on-going pandemic.
• What source of health information can I trust?
It’s no news that the Internet is literary a misinformation super highway. With celebrities and I-know-all experts who give us complete garbage advice. Take for instance hat famous online counsellor who advices women to put acidic fruits like lemons and oranges in the vagina to combat vaginal infection. It’s very disgusting. As a doctor, I want my patients to be proactively educated. Anyone with a blog can give out information and advice on medical issues, it’s therefore, important to ask your doctor about which sites he or she trusts, so when you inevitably Google your symptoms, you’re not being misled.
I regularly get many comments about what patients feed themselves from the internet. Unfortunately, I never get the question as to whether the resources they used are even a trustworthy source of information. Information is important, but accurate and reliable information is far more important.
•Why should I take these medicines you are prescribing?
Sometimes we prescribe medications that you have no idea why you should take them. But it’s really important to know specifically why you should be on it. Is it treatment? Is it cure? Is it just going to control my symptoms? Are there any alternatives that we may consider? When you get a complete picture, you can make the most educated decision possible.
The major aspect of medication is side effect. So it’s important to ask your doctor about the possible side effects. Whether you are okay or not with those side effects, is an important conversation to have. In some case you may want only to control your symptoms, in other cases you may want total eradication of the diseases, at which point you may be okay with worst side effects. That’s why it’s always a balancing game between risks and benefits on individual level.
• How does my family history affect my risk for certain conditions?
It’s important to discuss family medical history with your doctor. Some medical conditions affect multiple family members across generations.
If first-degree relatives, such as a parent or sibling, or even more distant relatives have heart disease, an autoimmune disease or some types of cancer, you could be at higher risk. It’s important that we should have more advances in genetic testing for conditions that run in families – for example, BRAC1 and BRAC2 (gene mutations related to breast and ovarian cancer) and some hereditary colon cancers – knowing this information can be lifesaving,
The author is a medical doctor based in Dar es salaam.