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Questions To Ask Before Deciding About A Treatment

Overview

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Before agreeing to a treatment: 

  • In general: 
    • Keep in mind that it is your right to decide what treatment to undergo - or even to refuse treatment. 
    • Usually there is time before a decision has to be made. Ask the doctor how much time you have without endangering your health. You can take the time to explore the treatment and alterantives until you feel comfortable.
  • Before asking questions:
    • Before focusing on questions to ask, it helps to think about what is most important to you about your treatment. For example, you may want to take a treatment which has the least effect on your work, or one with the least side effects. 
  • Questions to ask
    • Ask every question that is important to you and get answers that you understand.
    • If the doctor doesn't have time to answer your questions, ask when you can speak again to cover the rest of your questions (via phone, fax, e mail or in another appointment.) If the doctor doesn't have time, you can ask a nurse, social worker or navigator. 
    • For a list of suggested questions see the following. Feel free to print a copy of the questions and take it with you to a doctor's appointment. 
    • If you would prefer to create your own list, you can keep track of your questions with our Prioritizer
      • Write questions as you think of them. 
      • Before you go to the doctor, you can number the questions in order of priority to you. 
      • A click of a key will shuffle your questions into the order you want. you can then print the form and take it with you.
    • NOTE: Do not worry that a question will sound "silly" or "strange" to your health care team. They know you want to understand your treatment plan.
  • Consider taking with you to each appointment where a potential treatment will be discussed:
    • A family member or friend to act as a patient advocate to help ask questions during the meeting and to discuss the answers afterward.
    • A recording device to record what happens during the appointment so you can review it later. (Many mobile phones include the ability to record.) You will also be able to play the recording for other concerned friends or family members. (NOTE: Ask the doctor if it is okay before recording the conversation.)
  • To be sure you understand the answers to your questions, consider the following. 
    • Repeat the information back to your doctor and ask if your understanding is correct. This is particularly imporant with respects to the risks, benefits and alternatives to a particular treatment.
    • If it would help you, ask the doctor to show you a visual such as an x-ray or scan provide or draw a diagram, or point you to an online video. 
  • If more than one treatment is available, after asking questions about each individual treatment, ask your doctor: "If you had a child of your own in my situation, what would you suggest he or she do?" Asking what the doctor would recommend to his or her child allows the doctor to express an opinion hypothetically which may lessen fears about liability that could prevent the doctor from giving an opinion.
  • If one treatment doesn't clearly fit your goals better than another one, consider using our Treatment Evaluator to help you make an informed decision.

Consent Forms: You will likely be asked to sign a Consent Form before treatment starts. Too frequently, the form is given when you are about to start treatment. It is preferable to get a copy of the form well ahead of any treatment so you have the time to read and absorb the information at your leisure. Medical consent forms are usually printed and look like they cannot be changed. However, you have the right to make any changes you want. For more information about medical consent forms, click here

If you want to refuse a treatment, but have difficulty saying so to your doctor, see How To Refuse A Treatment You Don't Want And How To Enforce Your Refusal If Necessary 

NOTE:

  • On a related subject, for information about how to choose a drug, click here.
  • If you haven't before, this is a good time to execute legal documents known as Advance Healthcare Directives so that if something happens, your wishes will be honored even if you become unable to communicate for yourself.  They are free and do not need a lawyer to execute them. 

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