March 14th  is officially International Ask a Question Day, so with that in mind I wanted to bring up the importance of asking questions of your health care provider.  Remaining silent and not asking questions could literally be hazardous to your health or the health of your loved one.

We used to think that it was a sign of disrespect to question any physician or health care provider and that if we were “good patients”, we would simply absorb what the provider said and not question their advice.  Fear of “rocking the boat” and speaking of embarrassing issues may also play a part in poor communication between health care provider and patient.

But times have changed and studies have shown that good communication between provider and patient is linked to patient safety.  If there is not good communication, patients are less liked to follow their medication orders correctly, they are more likely to have additional tests ordered and repeated follow-up visits are often required.  There may even be complications leading to repeated or new hospitalizations.

Developing the skills necessary to have a meaningful conversation with a physician or health care provider is important.  Here are some ways to do that.

Questions to Ask In The Physician’s Office:

  • Prepare for appointments by writing out questions beforehand.  List the important ones first in case the doctor is called away from the exam room.
  • Bring a list of the medications being used, including vitamins and herbal remedies.
  • If there are many questions, call the physician’s office and let them know that extra time will be needed.
  • Ask for permission to bring a tape recorder in order to record the conversation.
  • Take notes.
  • Ask the physician to draw pictures if something is not understood.
  • Ask for written instructions.
  • Tell the physician anything that you feel is important for him/her to know.
  • Don’t forget to ask all personnel if they have cleansed their hands.

Questions to Ask When a New Medication is Ordered:

  • How will this medication help me?
  • Is this the brand or generic name and what is the name of the alternate form of the medication?
  • What are the side effects?
  • When should it be taken – with meals, before meals, at bedtime?
  • Are there any foods or drinks to avoid while taking this medication (such as certain vitamins or antacids)?
  • If I am allergic to (X), can I still take this medication?

Questions to Ask as a Patient in the Hospital:

  • Ask all personnel if they have washed their hands (we don’t mind; we have signs asking YOU to ask us).
  • If you are receiving intervenous medications, ask the nurse when she expects the IV fluid bag to be empty.
  • Ask if you will be receiving an antibiotic prior to surgery.
  • Ascertain that anyone who gives a medication to you, takes blood from you or transports you to a procedure, checks your name band first.
  • Ask what medications you are being given and why.
  • Ask “if I am allergic to (X), may I still take this medication?”

Questions to Ask When Being Discharged From the Hospital:

  • Ask if you may tape record the conversation.
  • Ask about all discharge medications – the name, the reason for taking, possible allergies and the side effects.
  • Ask if the medications that were taken prior to the hospital admission should still be taken.
  • Ask what signs and symptoms should cause you to return to the hospital.
  • Ask if there are follow up appointments scheduled and if so, when and with whom.
  • Discharge instructions are generally written out on paper.  Make sure that you receive a copy and insist that everything on the instruction page is reviewed with you.
  • If possible, have a friend who is a nurse sit with you during the discharge instructions.

In this age of health care cost cuts and understaffed hospitals, it is imperative to become the center of your own health care team.  Be proactive and ask questions in order to give yourself and your loved one the best possible outcomes.


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