The lawyers in our office handle a lot of medical cases, so it is natural that friends and family often ask us questions about their own medical conditions or surgeries they are about to have. If we know the answer to something simple, we will tell them, but in general we remind folks that we are not doctors (although we know a fair amount about medicine) and the best advice we can give them is this: Do not be afraid to ask the doctor questions!
We have seen time and time again where patients are either too intimidated to ask the doctor questions, or they simply accept everything the doctor says on blind faith. Both of those circumstances can lead to problems.
First, don't be intimidated by the doctor! You are the patient; it is your body and you are entitled to answers. The doctor needs to take the time to provide them to you. We recommend that people who are preparing to meet with the doctor should make a list of questions ahead of time and write them down on a piece of paper. Take the list to the office and have them with you when you see the doctor so you do not forget what you want to ask. The doctor will appreciate that also because it saves time and may eliminate a later telephone call.
Second, don't just accept everything the doctor says as gospel. Doctors do make mistakes. They forget things, sometimes get confused, or they may have forgotten something about the patient's medical history that changes the type of treatment they use.
It is a little tougher to ask questions when you are in the hospital because either the patient may be in no condition to talk, or his family and loved ones are not in the room when the doctor makes early morning rounds. If the patient is unable to speak for himself/herself then family members need to make sure that they find out from the nursing staff when the doctor makes their rounds (For most physicians and surgeons that is first thing in the morning or near the end of the day), and the family members need to make it a point to be there to see the doctor.
Many patients in the hospital actually have more than one doctor making rounds on them. It is important that all doctors know what the other are doing and thinking. Too many times patients just assume that all of the doctors are talking to one another. Sadly, we have often found that not to be the case, i.e., there are many situations where "the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing." In those situations, it is very important for family members to talk with each doctor and mention what they have said and what treatment they are using.
We have had cases over the years involving medication errors, delay in diagnosis and other mistakes occur simply because the doctors were not talking to one another. If you have a family member who is serving as the patient advocate and talking to all the doctors, that can reduce the chances of a medical error taking place.
So, remember whether you are in the office or the hospital, ask the doctor questions!