When was the last time you questioned your doctor? Maybe this concept isn’t intimidating to you, but I know that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable questioning their doctor. After all, the doctor is the expert. So, we tend to take medical advice without any critical thought. But, what would happen if we changed this model? By definition, asking questions will make the patient-provider relationship more interactive and will help the patient/client feel more empowered and confident in their care plan. ***By the way – any good provider should not only answer these questions, but should welcome them! Asking questions is not a sign of disrespect, but rather a sign of engagement. And if your provider doesn’t want to answer these questions, perhaps that’s a sign that they’re not the right provider for you…
But, this advice doesn’t just apply to interactions with your doctor. These questions should be posed to ALL health care professionals (read: personal trainers, health coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, etc.). I am referring to ANYONE that helps you with your health.
Because here’s the deal – health care is an industry (one that I’m part of, mind you). And while most health professionals go into this business to help people, they also have to earn a living. After all, you’d probably ask someone who’s working on your house or car these questions, so why not ask someone who is working on your body the same?!?
1). What are your credentials?
This sounds so simple, but don’t you deserve to know where someone trained and if they’re qualified to be doing what they’re doing?
We live in the information age, which means that we can be exposed to a lot of so-called-experts. But, do these people actually have any credentials to fall back on? It’s worth looking into, in my opinion.
It’s also worth having an idea of what each state regulatory agency requires of providers. For example, in Colorado there are no limitations with respect to who practices nutrition. That means that you could be getting nutrition advice from someone that has NO training. I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to know if the person giving me nutrition advice has any education!
I’d also like to remind you that there are different schools of thought, and this will affect someone’s treatment approach. For example, you are going to get very different advice from a Registered Dietician whose training is based upon FDA regulations versus a Holistic Nutritionist. Both should be able to explain their philosophy and provide evidence for their protocols.
One last thing – ask about the experience that your provider has. You may be working with someone that just graduated from an excellent program, but they may lack clinical experience. While that isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s worth noting. I can honestly say that I’ve learned more in my time as a practitioner than I have ever learned from a course.
Moreover, your provider should be applying the basic principles of “Evidence-Based Practice,” which has 3 pillars:
1). Scientific evidence (research)
2). Clinical experience
3). Patient values.
Your provider should incorporate all 3 of these aspects when developing a plan for you.
2). What are your expectations of me?
Personally, I love when my patients ask me this question. It shows me that they’re invested in their recovery. Because no matter what, there is no such thing as passive treatment. The patient/client always has some responsibility, even when it comes to surgery or more aggressive medical treatments like chemo.
Providers are normally really good at giving advice. But, they can often fail to ask you if what they’re suggesting seems reasonable. Sure, it would be easy to tell someone that is 50lb overweight and pre-diabetic that they should implement an exercise routine and limit their refined sugar, but is that advice really appropriate for that person? Probably not. If it were that simple, that person likely wouldn’t be in the position they’re in. When a health professional gives you advice, think long and hard about whether or not you can meet their expectations and start a dialogue to help develop a plan that seems more achievable for you.
Furthermore, try to get an idea of time frame. I’ve talked a lot about this on my Instagram page lately, but this bears repeating: management of chronic or ongoing issues (e.g. weight loss, chronic pain, pelvic organ prolapse) typically requires long-lasting lifestyle changes. Someone that tells you that they can “fix” you in a short period of time is selling you something.
When dealing with short-term, acute injuries and illness on the other hand, it’s still worth knowing what your provider expects out of you while you heal and recover. Ask them about recovery time-frame and when to return for more care if you don’t improve.
3). What’s the alternative?
This is my FAVORITE question to ask providers. Because guess what? There is always another option. Always. Even if the other option is “do nothing.” The answer to this question will give you perspective on how much is at stake. For example, if someone needs an organ transplant, the alternative (and consequence) is pretty clear. But, when it comes to working with other health professionals, there tends to be more gray area.
This is particularly true with PT. Women always ask, “what happens if I don’t close my diastasis?” And of course, the answer is always, “it depends,” but I can confidently say that if a women doesn’t learn to use her core muscles appropriately, she is at increased risk for developing low back pain and pelvic floor dysfunction. To some women, this is impetus enough to start care. Others choose to wait it out and return to PT when it’s more convenient, as this isn’t as pressing of an issue.
If you’re someone that is considering major surgery (e.g. spinal fusion, hip labral repair, hernia repair or pelvic organ surgery – the big ones that I see in my clinical practice) – I implore you to ask this question. Of course, surgeons are going to recommend surgery. That’s their treatment modality and what they’re best at. It’s also what makes them money. Unfortunately, I see a lot of unnecessary surgeries that don’t improve patients’ symptoms and can often make things worse.
Of course, that’s not to say that I tell people to avoid surgeries at all costs. These interventions exist for good reason and sometimes are the best option. But, everyone has the right to a second (or even third, or fourth!) opinion. Do you research, ask questions and see more than one provider. This is your body, after all.
I hope that this information helps you to feel empowered when working with health professionals. It can be challenging to navigate the health care industry, but do not forget that it is your right to get ethical, effective care that takes your values into consideration.