Should You Understand Everything Your Doctor Says?
The short answer is yes, as much as possible. The more you understand about your condition and what to expect going forward, the less anxious you will feel. Patients who feel they understand feel they are in control of their disease.
If you find comfort in bringing along a family member or friend, do it. Keep your group small because the focus needs to remain on you. Your family and friends can provide more ears with which to listen, learn, and understand.
Your doctor may at times use medical terms you don't understand. Never hesitate to ask what something means and don't just let it go. Learning is vitally important to achieving your treatment goals.
Limited health literacy leads to a higher rate of hospitalization and emergency room use, as well as billions of dollars spent on avoidable health-care costs. Getting back to you specifically, could you feel comfortable not knowing what's wrong, why a test is being ordered, or why a treatment plan is being recommended over another? You need clarity as much as you need your treatment.
Use reputable sources to learn about health information. The Internet makes health information easily accessible. Choose a few great Web sites you can trust and stick with them. You will feel comfortable formulating questions for your doctor if you feel you have first developed a base of knowledge yourself.
According to the Institute of Medicine, health literacy is defined as the degree to which a person has the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic information and services needed to make appropriate decisions about their health. About 90 million people, or half of all American adults, have a problem with understanding and using health information.
Can You Know Too Much?
Patient education promotes better understanding. The emphasis is on understanding. Patient education is not for the purpose of empowering you improperly. Examples of improper empowerment are if you feel you are smarter than your doctor, you feel you can make your health decisions without your doctor's advice, you only need your doctor to write prescriptions for you, and patient education has diminished the trust and respect you had for your doctor.
Patient education should enhance the doctor-patient relationship by allowing you to comprehend and communicate intelligently with your doctor. If you feel improperly empowered or if your doctor feels threatened by your approach, you both may need to reassess your roles.
Ask your doctor to recommend resources where you can learn more about your disease and treatment options. Even as you become more informed, never will you reach the point where your doctor's advice isn't valuable. Your best chance to do all you can do to improve your health and cope with your disease comes with your doctor as team leader and you on the team as well. The greatest doctor-patient relationships have these roles clearly defined.
If you are uneasy about asking questions when you're with your doctor, discuss it and get your doctor's feelings regarding informed versus uninformed patients. Ask when it is the best time to ask questions. Work with your doctor to develop a routine that works for you — a routine that allows for questions and explanations. Your doctor will appreciate that you were open about your need to understand.