How to ask uncomfortable questions?


Question from Cid: Doctors seem worried that anything that does not go just as planned will be part of a lawsuit. They get defensive about honest questions. How do we get around that?
Answers - Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. I don't know that it's actually lawsuits that physicians worry about. I think our biggest concern is that we want our patients to trust us. A question that sounds challenging can threaten the relationship of trust that is so important to doctors and to patients.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. Whenever someone doubts that you care about them, or questions your commitment to them, it is very uncomfortable. Trust is the foundation of the doctor-patient relationship, and like all relationships, it needs to be cared for, reinforced, and worked on over time. There are ways to ask direct questions, even about uncomfortable topics, and still maintain a good feeling.

For example, if one of my staff members is rude to a patient of mine, I definitely want to hear about it, although bringing it up to me can feel uncomfortable for the patient. In particular, she may be worried that if she says something, that staff member may not provide her with the best care possible, or that the staff member might express anger towards the patient. I try to create a relationship with my patients that will allow them to report things like that to me without feeling defensive, and without me feeling defensive. It's all about being committed to the best care possible.

You could say to your doctor, 'I know you're committed to my care, and so I want you to know that I had an interaction with your staff member that didn't feel good to me. I'm bringing this to your attention because I know you'd want to address it. Thank you for handling this with care and discretion so this staff member doesn't get angry with me.' This is just an example of something that may feel difficult to talk about.
Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. Sometimes the best way to approach a doctor is to preface questions by saying something like, 'I trust your opinion about these matters, and I would really appreciate it if you could answer some questions I thought about after our last appointment.' When patients approach me that way, I know they trust me and that they are coming to me not to challenge me, but to feel fully informed about their condition and its treatment. Just those few words of preface can make the interchange more positive.

On Wednesday, February 19, 2003, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called The Doctor-Patient Relationship. Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about how to find the right doctor for you, and how to create and maintain a good, open relationship with your doctor so you can be sure to get all the care and information you need.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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