Don't Believe Everything That You Hear...From Your Doctor

Taking an active role in your healthcare and mental healthcare

Posted Oct 03, 2013

When I was pregnant a few years ago I came down with a terrible cold and asked my doctor if there were any medicines that I could safely take for the symptoms.  My doctor recommended a medication and I did a quick Internet search just to double check that the medicine was safe.  What I learned was that the medication was on a list of medicines that had not yet been examined for their safety in pregnant women (based on numerous reliable sources on pregnancy and medications).  So although there was no evidence that indicated that the medicine would be harmful to my baby, there was also no evidence that it would NOT be harmful. 

The experience taught me an important lesson—that my doctor’s view of what is safe and my view may be entirely different. From my doctor’s perspective, no news was good news and meant that the medicine was safe. From my view, no news meant…well, no news; and I wasn’t willing to take the risk that the medicine would be studied later and found NOT to be safe during pregnancy. 

After that experience, I learned to ask questions of my doctors and not to simply trust what they say just because they say it. Instead, I ask for information that supports what they are recommending, reliable resources that I can read to better understand the recommendations, and for the doctor’s rationale about why the treatment is the best option for me and my particular situation.

My asking for this information is not out of disrespect to the doctor.  It just means that I want to know what the information is so I can make an informed decision about what I would like to do.  Seeing a doctor (or therapist) is not about the doctor making recommendations and me blindly following them.  A huge part of a doctor’s job (or therapist’s job) is to be an educator for patients and interpreter of research.  Doctors and therapists should know the research about the effectiveness of treatments for a patient’s symptoms and communicate that information effectively and accurately to the patient so the patient and doctor can work together to identify the best treatment option for the patient.  Then it is the doctor’s job to administer that treatment while continuing to inform the patient about each step of the treatment.

I have seen clients who were given treatments that have no research backing them and who wasted time and money on a useless treatment. And I have heard numerous stories of individuals who have experienced devastating effects when they received the wrong treatment for their symptoms and became hopeless. I have also seen wonderful doctors who explain their diagnoses and recommendations to you, who spend time with you to answer every one of your questions and who not only treat you effectively, but who also make you feel heard and ensure that you are an active part of your health care. 

So next time you see your doctor or therapist and your doctor makes a recommendation, ask why. Why is this the best treatment for you?  What does the research suggest about how effective and safe it is for people like you with your type of symptoms?  Ask for informational pamphlets and flyers about the treatment and the diagnosis or for reliable online resources about it. Take an active role in your healthcare and mental healthcare. A good doctor or therapist will appreciate your questions and take the time to explain things to you and to ask if you have concerns or questions about their recommendations. It is our job, so have no qualms about asking us to do it and do it well.

Copyright Amy Przeworski.  This post and all portions of this post may NOT be duplicated or posted elsewhere (including on other websites) without permission of the author.

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About the Author

Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and specializes in anxiety disorders in children, adolescents, and adults.

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