5 Things to Know Before Making Healthcare Decisions

Do you really feel prepared to make most healthcare decisions for yourself or your family?

Maybe you expect your healthcare providers will tell you whatever it is you need to know. Or it could be that your physician is  Decision Making 11.9.15underestimating the value of involving you in the decision-making process.

So says a study published in Medical Decision Making by researchers at the University of Michigan. They surveyed more than 3,000 U.S. adults about nine common medical decisions. They learned that the majority  of patients don’t have enough information to make the best decisions.

One of the researchers, Brian Zikmund-Fisher,  knows the value of making the right choices.  While a graduate student in Australia, he was told he had to decide whether he would die from a blood disorder within a few years or undergo a bone marrow transplant that could either kill him in a few weeks or cure him. (He chose the bone marrow transplant but had to wait nine months for a bone marrow match). As you can imagine, he learned a lot from that experience.

Here are five important things you should know from his research:

  1. People aren’t always told the downside of a procedure or medication. For example, only 20% of people considering breast cancer screening and 49% considering blood pressure medications reported hearing about the potential negative consequences of those actions.
  2. Don’t expect a healthcare provider to ask you what you want to do. You may have to speak up for yourself or for your family member. For example, only 50% of people considering cholesterol medications reported being asked whether they wanted them.
  3. You may be over-estimating your risk of cancer and therefore putting more emphasis on screening than you need to. Most people think they’re more likely to get cancer than they are, and also believe cancer screening tests are more accurate than they are. You may be unaware of some of the downsides of what is now called “over diagnosis.”
  4. Men and women think about risks differently. For instance, women are more active in making cancer screening decisions no matter how at risk they think they are, while men tend to get involved only if they feel they are at high risk.
  5. You must A -S-K.  If your physician doesn’t tell you why he or she thinks you should do something, and doesn’t discuss reasons why you might decide to opt out of a treatment or procedure, ASK.

About Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN

I'm an experienced healthcare and science editor and journalist. But most of all, I'm a registered nurse with many years of experience working in hospitals. I've learned what patients and families need first hand. But I've also worked to improve hospitals and educate people about their health. I'm committed to helping people take charge of their health care and get what they need from a complex and often discouraging healthcare system.
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