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Your Role in Making Health Care Decisions

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Think of the major decisions you’ve made in your life--buying a house, launching a business, choosing a career path, getting married, starting a family. Odds are those decisions weren’t made by someone else. Shouldn’t it be the same when it comes to your health?

Many people struggle in this area, abiding by the school of thought that the doctor knows best. And he or she might. But that doesn’t mean you have to surrender your voice. In health matters, it makes sense to be part of the discussion.

That doesn’t mean disregarding a doctor’s advice. It simply means discussing options, possible outcomes and courses of treatment before a final decision is made. This can apply to everything from starting a new prescription to needing surgery.

“Before my last annual appointment with my doctor, I had kept a running checklist of items I wanted to talk with her about. By keeping this running checklist, I was able to get all my health questions answered,” says Stacey Gabriel, N.H. Institute for Health Policy and Practice. “My doctor was very receptive to this, but it also made me feel heard as she addressed all of my questions and concerns. Our health is priceless, and I believe that we each need to take an active role in protecting and maintaining it.”

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers a list of questions for patients to ask to help them make informed decisions about their health.

For example, if your doctor orders a test that you’re unfamiliar with, the AHRQ suggests you ask such things as what the test determines, what the benefits are compared to any risks, and, how many times the doctor has performed the test.
Sample prescription questions include asking how long it will take for the medicine to work, if there are known side effects, if there is a generic alternative, and if you can stop taking the medicine once you feel better or if you must finish the prescribed dosage.

If you are trying to decide on a course of treatment for an illness or condition, you might ask what the options are, which one the doctor recommends, what the expected results are, and how soon you need to make a decision.

A list of suggested questions can be found at http://archive.ahrq.gov/qual/beprepared.pdf.
For more health care information, visit http://www.unh.edu/healthyunh/.