In medical schools, doctors are taught that to properly diagnose and manage their patients, they should ask the right questions that would guide the patients into eliciting relevant details in the history of their illness. Through this, the medical specialist is able to draw out important information such as when the symptoms began to appear, how rapid was the onset, were there any other associated signs and symptoms, what medications relieved the pain felt, was there any specific action which triggered the pain or numbness, or if any medications were taken.
Through these questions, an attending physician is able to extract information that he can relate with the patient’s clinical status, eventually linking the findings to a specific disease entity, and lastly using the diagnosis in order to be able to prescribe the right medications. While these questions are a must for physicians and have been proven to be relevant in the practice of medicine, there are three questions which for me a practicing physician should ask his or her patients from time to time.
- How do you understand your condition or illness?
By knowing your patient’s level of understanding of his condition, you as a physician become more aware of what your patient is going through. By this, I do not only mean the medical side of the disease but also the emotional part of the process, most especially in more serious diseases such as cancer or HIV for example. Moreover, their understanding would also affect their outlook towards the medications that you’ll be prescribing, the tests, as well as some lifestyle modifications that you may have to impose. And never forget that should their understanding be a bit off beam, correct them in a respectful manner.
- Is there anything else that you need to tell me?
While a lot of patients would give out complete details about their medical history even without the physician asking, there are those that need a little “priming”. Meaning, as a physician, you might need to guide them in order for them to properly organize their thoughts and remember some vital details which they might have missed because a lot has been going through their minds during the initial interview. This question is most useful in cases where in the patient is suffering from ailments that need more sensitivity and privacy when dealt with, such as sexually transmitted diseases for example. But remember that this question requires you as a physician to earn your patient’s trust first. So always explain to him or her that everything that has been talked between the two if is to be kept confidential and that you are asking him this for you to be able to manage his case properly.
- Do you have any questions?
Lastly, after you have made a diagnosis and have prescribed your patient with the initial medication, it is your responsibility to ask your patient if there are any points that he needs to confirm. This is necessary to avoid misunderstanding among patients and doctors. By allowing the patients to make queries, you avoid some errors that may arise such as wrong medication dosage, improper practices, and other misconceptions about their health. And I am sure that your patients would really appreciate that you are allowing them to channel to you questions which cannot be directly answered by other sources, such as the people they meet every day, or even the internet. Tell your patient that they can ask you any medical-related questions, even ones not related to their current condition, and that you’ll try to answer these in the best of your knowledge. They’ll be thankful for that.
Next time you examine your patients, be sure to focus on the 3 Questions mentioned in this post to gain complete and comprehensive overview of your patients.