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This question often arises during interviews with potential medical negligence claims. Over the years, I have discussed these types of claims involving physicians, hospitals, nurses; virtually every type of medical professional. During those discussions, I often provide suggestions related to “how to speak to a doctor”.

A more detailed article on this topic and “Do I have a medical negligence claim?” can be found on our website.

Whether the reason for your doctor’s visit is a regular check-up, a discussion of test results, or a specific complaint, it is very important that you have an informed discussion with your physician, particularly when the meeting pertains to a procedure or treatment that requires your consent.

Each of us approaches our health issues differently. We do, however, share a common experience – anxiety. Do I have some unknown disease? Is my cholesterol high? Do I need to lose weight? Why does my heart race? These are very common questions, and can contribute to an anxious meeting.

Anxiety affects our hearing and memory. We think that we are listening, and absorbing what the doctor is saying. The physician assumes we are listening because we are sitting in a chair, staring at the physician’s face, and possibly even nodding.

It is highly recommended that you have a family member or close friend attend the appointment with you. This is especially important when the discussion involves a serious health concern. A companion will listen, ask questions, recall and even record what is discussed.

The appointment should be a two-way discussion. If a procedure or treatment is to occur, then you need to know the following:  What? Why? How? When? Where? What are the risks? Possible consequences? Other options?

Be sure to take time and ask questions. A physician needs to know your concerns, complaints, and emotional state prior to any procedure or treatment.

Many patients believe the physician will discuss or mention anything that is important, and therefore, it is not necessary to prepare questions. A physician is medically trained to advise and inform of specific medical issues. Each physician has his or her method of conveying information. Physicians can forget or make assumptions as to what a patient needs to know. When problems arise from a procedure or treatment, it is late in the day to then ask questions that should have been asked at the beginning.

Do not assume the physician will advise you of all necessary facts. We are all human, and have good and bad days. This is your health issue, whether serious or not. Ask for a brochure or other written information. In some teaching hospitals, residents are allowed to perform or participate in the procedure. Is this your situation?

The more informed you are, the better you are prepared for any known risk to occur. Information does not guarantee a safe or risk-free procedure or treatment. Complications can arise without any fault on the part of the medical professional.

Then there are situations that do involve medical negligence. If you are involved in a medical trauma, seek help. This could be a discussion with your family doctor, specialist, family or friends. It may require legal advice. Take time to locate the appropriate lawyer. If I or my colleagues (Greg Murdoch and Cynthia Davis) can assist, please contact us.

Article written by: Steven Kenney
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