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Should I Ask About My Prognosis?

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A prognosis is a doctor's best estimate about a patient's life expectancy.

There is no right or wrong answer to the question whether to ask for a prognosis.

Before asking:

  • Keep in mind that a prognosis is only a guess unless you are at an end stage of life.  An individual’s health, attitude, and adherence to the medical regimen; the nature of care; the effectiveness of varied therapies; the stage at which the disease was discovered and first treated; the impact of subsequent medical progress- all these factors can influence prognosis. Any prediction is at best a statistically grounded estimate based on existing variables and the current state of ever-changing medical knowledge and treatment.
    • What happens to others is not necessarily what happens to any individual. In fact, there is no way to predict what will happen to any particular person. 
    • At least one person survives every illness, and that person could just as well be you as somebody else. 
  • Think about why you are asking. For instance, if it is to help refine your investment strategy, a prognosis can be helpful. If it is to decide whether to blow all your money if you have a short term prognosis, it is not a good idea. As noted, unless you are at an end stage, a prognosis is only a guess and not necessarily indicative of what will happen to you.

If you do ask:

  • Rather than ask "How long do I have?", ask a more general question such as: "What is the shortest and what is the longest that I can reasonably expect?"
  • If you are doing planning based on the answer,  consider asking the question again periodically. You can ask something like: "Has anything happened that would change the time frame I can reasonably expect?"
  • When something new arises, ask: "Does this change what I can expect?"

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