Sunday, June 26, 2011

Questions are the Answer

I have posted the second installment of my column on the MPD Chat listserve below. Though this column is written for members of the myeloproliferative disorders community, my suggestions apply across all conditions. A previoius post on this blog contains similarPlease leave a comment or offer your ideas for questions that patients might ask to enhance their participation in care.
June 23, 2011 – Number 2

The National Patient Safety Foundation's Ask Me 3 campaign (see: encourages patients to ask 3 questions of their health card team to increase their understanding of their health conditions and what to do about them. The 3 questions are:
  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?

Though these questions are good ones, I view the The Ask Me 3 questions as a minimalist approach for promoting clinician-patient communication, patient understanding and enhanced patient capacity to manage their conditions. These questions will help you get your clinicians' view of what you need to know, including their impression of what ails you (e.g., a diagnosis) and the options for managing your condition. Hopefully, if you ask the second question, you will learn not just about treatments, but also self-management options (i.e., what you can do to manage your condition). These questions hopefully will lead to a discussion and not just a lecture.

However, many clinicians do not have the inclination or skill to respond to these basic questions well. So, you may want to bring some additional questions. Here are a few others you might want to consider asking:

  • "What else might be going on to explain my symptoms, examination and test results?" Ask "what else?" at least twice. Dr. Jerome Groopman, the noted oncologist and writer thinks "what else?" is one of THE most important questions you can ask. Asking "what else" actually helps clinicians to reflect and consider possibilities they might have prematurely rejected in their efforts to "make" a diagnoses.
  • "What aspects of my presentation are not well explained by your diagnosis?" "Presentation"" is a word that clinicians use to convey the combination of symptoms, physical examination findings, and lab tests. They will be impressed if you use this word! Again, you are helping them to reflect and consider what doesn't fit their conceptualization.
  • "How sure are you that this is my main problem?"
  • "What tests would help you to be more sure?" For those of us with MPNs, you can get more specific and ask about JAK2 testing, bone marrow biopsies, imaging tests, etc.
  • "How useful would it be to see another doctor who has more experience treating patient with my condition?" This is especially important question for us, since MPNs are relatively uncommon and only those who treat many MPN patients are aware of new and emerging treatments.
  • "What are other treatment options?" This is similar to the "what else could it be?" question in helping the clinician expand his/her thinking about possible treatments.
  • "What are the pros and cons of the treatment options?" Many clinicians minimize the down side - but it is important that you make fully informed choices that include an understanding of the risks and benefits.
  • "What things can I do, (besides taking medication or undergoing other treatments) that will help me to manage my condition and have the best chance of maintaining my function?" Hopefully, this will lead to a discussion of strategies that may enhance your capacity to monitor you condition, maximize your well-being and function (e.g. eating well, being physically active, paciing oneself, etc.)

I realize that it may be challenging to ask ALL of these questions in a single visit...and some clinicians my bristle or balk if you pull out a list or ask too many questions. That kind of reaction is regrettable. After all, this is your life, your health, your condition! The doc may be the expert on the condition and treatment, but you are the expert about you!. Clinicians have the knowledge about what to prescribe. Yet, to effectively manage a condition, especially a MPN, you need to learn how to monitor, manage, cope and adapt.

I hope you will share your own favorite questions here....

Asking is the first step. As the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Qualtiy has said in their ads, "Questions are the Answer!" see:

Next column, I'll discuss what patients and caregivers can do if their clinician is reluctant to answer questions or hesitant to consider alternative diagnoses, treatments, referrals or self-management education.

Best wishes,

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