Tips for talking to your doctor about treatment options

Healthcare Bluebook  ·  May 31, 2017

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It can be difficult to understand complex medical issues and terms. However, it is important to understand your medical condition and the treatment options your doctor recommends.

When meeting with your doctor, ensure you understand:

What is my condition or diagnosis?

What treatment is recommended?

  • A therapy
  • A medication
  • A laboratory test or diagnostic imaging (such as X-ray or MRI)
  • Inpatient or outpatient surgery

Why do you recommend the treatment?

Write down your diagnosis and recommended treatment. You may not know how to spell the medical terms, so be sure to ask. This will help you when you look for information or need to discuss your health with other doctors or family members.

What are my other treatment options?

Discuss available care with your doctor. In most cases you will have several treatment options to consider that may make a big difference how much your care will cost. This is true for outpatient surgeries, diagnostic tests, and medications.

Treatment options will depend on your personal situation, but there are several questions that you should always discuss with your doctor or care provider:

Do I need a particular treatment right away or are there less intense therapies that can be tried first?

In many instances, there are low risk alternatives that can be tried before choosing intense medical interventions, such as surgery.

For example, there are many different treatments for low back pain, only some of which require surgery. You may want to try rest, medications, or physical therapy before having surgery. Your doctor will determine whether or not you are a candidate for a more conservative treatment option based on your symptoms and medical condition.

Are there lifestyle changes that may help my condition?

There are non-medical options for care in some instances. For example, making lifestyle and diet changes may save you from taking medications for high cholesterol or blood pressure. Your doctor can tell you if non-medical options will help your condition.

What alternative approaches are there for my treatment?

In many cases there will be several different medical options for your treatment. For example, if you need surgery, ask if it can be done laproscopically or as an outpatient. If you need medications, ask if there are less expensive drugs that will work. You should discuss the benefits and limitations of different options with your doctor before deciding which is best for you.

Questions to ask your doctor:

Some medical tests, treatments, and procedures provide little benefit. And, in some cases, they may even cause harm. Talk to your doctor regarding the need for care to make sure you end up with the right amount of care—not too much and not too little.

How do I choose the right care for my needs and pocketbook?

Be sure to tell your doctor that cost is an important consideration to you.

Things to consider when deciding on different treatment options:

  • Does it matter where I receive a treatment (inpatient, outpatient, or at an ambulatory surgical center)?
    • Another good example is diagnostic tests, such as X-rays or MRIs. Patients may choose to have an MRI at the hospital, the doctor’s office, or a free-standing MRI clinic. The free-standing MRI clinic is usually the best value for the same quality test with often the same radiologist reading the results.
    • Cost will vary widely based upon where you receive treatment. In many cases, the outpatient setting is not only less expensive but also higher quality, less crowded, and quicker. Your physician often has privileges at multiple locations and can schedule your care in the most appropriate setting for your needs.
    • For example, many surgeries can be performed as an outpatient at an Ambulatory Surgery Center (least expensive), outpatient at a hospital, or as an inpatient in the hospital (most expensive).

What options do I have to save money on prescription drugs?

The most common options to save money on medications include:

  • Use generic medications when available.
  • Use alternative medications that are less expensive but will work just as well (often called a “class substitution”).
  • Ask if pill splitting would be OK with your particular medication. Pill splitting is a common technique that allows you to buy a higher dose of your medication at lower cost, and then split the pills into smaller pieces in order to get the right dose for your needs. Only use pill splitting if approved by your doctor.

Do I go to my doctor’s office for all of my care?

For basic medical care like ear infections, influenza, sore throats or shots, there are alternatives to a physician office visit that provide high quality care at an equal or lower price. Examples include:

  • Walk-in clinics such as CVS MinuteClinic, Walgreens Take Care Clinic, or RediClinic are examples of retail locations that are often open longer hours and on weekends.
  • If your work location offers an onsite clinic, these can also handle many of the minor illnesses listed above.

There are many studies that show higher cost in health care does not necessarily mean higher quality or value. There are many clinical and personal preferences that go into each individual’s choice of treatment, but all health care consumers have a right to make cost-conscious decisions when it comes to their care.

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