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When Your Health's at Risk, Investigate

The physician-patient relationship is key to your good health -- for prevention, treatment and recovery. Learn how to research effectively, and consider all of your options.
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So much information, so much confusion, so many questions.

Clearly, if there was only one way to treat a condition, the practice of medicine would be a lot simpler for both patients and healthcare providers. Simpler, however, is not always better. As hard as decisions can be, they are necessary because one choice does not satisfy all needs. Think of it as if there was only one restaurant in town and that restaurant served only one dish. Choices and decisions, as difficult as they may be, are a better option. When there are many ways to treat a condition, information from many sources must be considered. All available treatment options need to be considered based on the source of the information with decisions based on personal lifestyle and expectations.

Not uncommonly, treatment options are based on the subspecialty and expertise of the individual healthcare provider. A nonsurgical physician will likely opt for a trial of conservative treatment -- rest, pain killers, various medications, physical therapy, etc. A surgeon will likely opt for a quick fix, e.g. remove, repair, reconnect. Each treatment option has different pre- and post-care considerations. Conservative medical treatments require patience, including prolonged "downtime" while anticipating improvement and healing. Surgical interventions require postsurgical rehabilitation and wound repair. The recovery time required for either of these scenarios will vary with age, the severity of the underlying condition, the demands placed on the body during the healing process, as well as expectations for full recovery.

Questions for a treating physician are very important and no question is too "stupid." The more questions beforehand, the better for everyone, as unexpected or unanticipated pain or limitations during the recovery phase is detrimental to the patient, the healing process and to the physician. Not to mention the agitation and angst generated on both sides of a call to the doctor's office when the physician and/or the answers to your concerns are unavailable.

Medical shows on TV, call-in radio, medical websites, etc. may not be valid resources for your specific situation. Even published peer review medical literature should be analyzed carefully. These publications may be based on anecdotal information, small patient sample size, poor patient selection, and even possibly biased studies that invalidate the conclusions pertinent to many patients. Your treating physician is the most valid resource, provided of course he/she is familiar with your condition and has had prior experience with treating or managing it successfully. The usefulness of published articles about vertebroplasty, for example, professes how well it works, while others call it bogus and report that it does not work.

These kinds of published reports muddy the waters for both referring physicians and patients but also make everyone aware that questions are in order. Carefully selected patients who experienced the procedure have reported relief, while other patients may have experienced no benefit. Success obviously is based on the right patient for the right procedure, performed at the right time in the course of their condition.

My recommendation is to ask questions, ask your friends, relatives, anyone whose opinion you trust. If they were helped -- to whom did they go? What were they told? Research, investigate, ask questions, be your own advocate and then trust. Trust that you did your homework and selected your physician and course of treatment well; then trust your physician and be a responsible patient.

Do as you are instructed and be sure you understand what you are being instructed to do. Know what to expect, both when things are going well and what to do if an unanticipated problem occurs.

The physician-patient relationship is key to your good health -- for prevention, treatment and recovery. Choose carefully and act responsibly and you will optimize your chances for recovery.