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Vital Questions to Improve Your Vital Signs

Vital Questions to Improve Your Vital Signs

As a pediatrician I could always tell when the latest edition of Parent Magazine hit the grocery news stand.  Parents would come into the clinic with questions prompted by the latest news stories about children's health.  Those questions helped motivate me to brush up on the latest scientific evidence on issues like the relationship of vaccinations to autism, the risk of alar levels in apples, or even the impact of too much TV on infant brain development. 

Questions from well informed parents - and patients - keep doctors, nurses, psychologists and other providers on our collective toes.  Asking questions helps build an open, trusting partnership between patients and their health care providers.  Research shows that when patients and providers team up to explore questions and treatment options, patients feel better informed and are far more likely to select high quality but less invasive (and usually less costly) treatments.

For patients who want to be more active in managing their health and health care, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has developed a list of ten questions that they suggest should be routinely asked of health care providers to get better, higher quality care:  

  1. What is the test for?
  2. How many times have you done this procedure?
  3. When will I get the results?
  4. Why do I need this treatment?
  5. Are there any alternatives?
  6. What are the possible complications?
  7. Which hospital is best for my needs?
  8. How do you spell the name of that drug?
  9. Are there any side effects?
  10. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I'm already taking?

This list is a great start, but there's another question I'd insert before #10. The explosion of pharmaceutical drugs to treat an array of ailments has heightened the tendency to prescribe more medication rather than eliminating drugs that may not be fully effective.  Yet the chance of dangerous drug interactions or side effects increases dramatically for each additional medication that someone takes.  My advice is that anyone taking a prescription drug should also ask "Do I need to continue this medication I'm currently taking?"  If the answer is "yes," then #10 is the vital follow up question. 

The next time you see your health care provider, ask these 11 questions to start a dialogue that can help build a stronger collaborative and trusting partnership.  Maybe you already have some questions to add to the vital list.  If so, please share your questions so we are all better prepared to be on our collective toes.

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