Whether you have been newly diagnosed with a serious illness or having been living with one for some time, it is hard to know what questions to ask and how to choose the best treatment option for you. Medical jargon makes it even harder to see how potential treatment options would fit into your life, and whether they are the best option for you as an individual. During your next doctor’s visit, bring these 5 questions with you, to help you and your doctor decide on the best path forward.
1. What is the benefit of this treatment?
Your doctor will likely answer this question spontaneously. However, I encourage you to explicitly summarize your understanding of the benefit to help you get a clearer picture of the goal of the treatment and what you can expect from the treatment. Clarifying the expectations of the treatment ensure that you and your medical provider are on the same page.
For example, for someone living with cancer, the benefit of the treatment may be that it controls the disease, helping you to feel better, but it may not cure or make the disease go away.
2. What is the potential burden of this treatment?
The burdens of a treatment can include a lot of different things. Most people will think about the side effects of a treatment. You will want to appreciate the common side effects, how long they typically last, and how they may impact your day to day.
You will also want to ask the following questions to get a fuller picture of how the treatment could impact your life.
How long does it takes to receive the treatment?
Do I have to stay in the hospital overnight for the treatment?
Can I travel while receiving this treatment?
How often will I need to visit the office for follow ups and other appointments?
Do most people continue to work while on treatment?
3. How likely is it that I will experience the benefits or the burdens?
While your doctor does not have a crystal ball to predict the future, they often do have access to data, medical literature, and their own clinical experience to answer this question. In answering this question, you are asking them to consider what is known about the illness and how the illness is currently affecting your health.
4. How will I know if this treatment is helping or if it is not helping?
It is important to have a conversation about how your medical team will monitor the effectiveness of the treatment. This will likely take into account how you are feeling on the treatment as well as elements of the physical exam, imaging studies ,and lab findings. You may also have your own answer to this question and it would be helpful to share this with your doctor.
5. Will this treatment help me reach my goals?
It is critical to identify what you are hoping to achieve with this treatment. EpioneMD coaches can help you identify your values and your personal goals which can inform decisions about treatments. Once you have identified your goals share this with your doctor and ask your doctor if this treatment will help you reach your goal. This is one of the most important steps when considering whether this treatment option makes sense for you.
It is not easy to live with a serious illness and navigate complicated decisions regarding a particular treatment. Answering these five questions can empower you to have a more informed conversation with your doctor and your medical team.
Caitlin Baran M.D. is a Palliative Care physician and Coach with EpioneMD. She completed completed her fellowship in Hospice & Palliative Medicine at the Harvard Interprofessional Palliative Care program. She has worked at academic centers including Massachusetts General Hospital and was an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Caitlin is humbled to practice Palliative Care, a field of medicine designed to understand who people are and align healthcare choices with their values.
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If you are feeling overwhelmed in trying to decide on a treatment and you’re ready to find the best path forward, come work with us! We are looking forward to it.