Health Information

How to Take Part in Every Medical Decision

In some medical situations, there’s a clear right answer regarding which treatment is best.

In other cases, such as breast or prostate cancer, for example, there are several valid treatment choices. What is best for you can depend on your values, personal choices, the stage of your condition, cost considerations, and the risks and benefits that go along with each choice.

Do your research

People who are well-informed play an important role in deciding how they’re going to treat their health conditions. They are likely to feel better about the decision process.

The following strategies can help you take part in every medical decision you’ll face:

  • Ask your health care provider to recommend and explain the most successful treatment choices for your condition.

  • Learn about your condition and the recommended treatments. Get information from reliable websites, books, self-help groups, and patient organizations like the American Diabetes Association. One of the best websites to visit is the National Guideline Clearinghouse. It gives information based on scientific evidence about which treatments work for certain conditions and which don’t. Another good site is the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

  • Take time to consider your personal choices regarding your quality of life and family situation, and how they relate to your treatment options.

Ask for information      

The general information about your condition that you gather from websites, books, or articles may not apply to your particular condition. Decisions about tests and treatment should be made after considering any other health conditions you have, your age, and medications you take for other conditions. Having the correct information about your specific case is needed before you make a decision on treatment choices, medical tests, or surgery. Ask your health care provider the following questions about how treatment will affect you.

Treatment questions:

  • What are the chances the treatment will work?

  • What are the risks and benefits?

  • What are the side effects?

  • Is the treatment painful? How can the pain be controlled?

  • How much does the treatment cost? Will my health plan pay for it?

  • Who would do the treatment and where would it be done?

Once you have the answers to these questions, make a chart of Benefits and Risks or Pros and Cons to help you decide if the treatment is right for you.

Medical test questions:

  • If the test is positive, what will you do differently?

  • How accurate is it? 

  • Is it painful? What can go wrong?

  • How much does it cost?

  • Is there a less expensive test that may give the same information?

  • Will my health plan pay for it?

Weigh the balance

After you know the facts, work with your health care provider to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks.