Being an active participant in your health care – working with your doctor to make decisions, for example – is an important step toward better care. Often health choices come down to a series of options with no “correct” choice, so establishing a relationship with your physician where you can work together to find the best option is key.
Researchers asked 1,340 adults to imagine they had heart disease and were asked how they wanted to participate in their treatment. For example, a heart patient might face choices between medications, bypass surgery, or angioplasty. Presented with this hypothetical situation, about 70% of the subjects said they preferred to make medical decisions together with their doctors, with both parties given the same level of influence. 11% felt they as the patient should hold the most decision-making responsibility, while another 19% thought the doctor should call the shots.
93% of the participants said they’d feel comfortable asking questions and 94% said they’d talk about their treatment preferences, but just 14% said they’d tell their doctor if they disagreed with his or her recommendations.
“We found that patients want to participate in making decisions with their physicians, but feel vulnerable and worried that they might be perceived as too assertive, resulting in lower quality care in the future,” said Dominick Frosch, Ph.D., lead author of the study.
Most study participants said they felt they had the ability to disagree with the physician (79%), but only a few said they thought disagreeing with their doctor was socially acceptable (14%). When asked to explain why they would not openly disagree with their physicians, respondents said they were afraid to be seen as a “difficult patient” (47%). 40% thought the disagreement could hurt the doctor-patient relationship and 51% felt it could interfere with getting the care they wanted.
This phenomenon can turn into a full-fledged problem if a doctor is recommending medication, for example, and the patient disagrees to the point where they never have the prescription filled. Particularly in the hypothetical heart disease example, doing nothing in terms of treatment could put a patient at serious risk.
“Our study suggests that health care providers need to be explicit with patients that their opinion matters and that it’s okay to disagree, otherwise the treatment that is prescribed may not be one the patient is willing to adhere to,” said Frosch.
Next time you find yourself in the doctor’s office, remember: it’s okay to speak up. If your health care provider isn’t listening to you, it may be time to consider a second opinion.