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Can I Ask My Doctor That?

If you’ve been reading my newsletters for any period of time, you know my ultimate goal is for patients and healthcare professionals to work together to optimize delivery of care. This sounds simple enough but even if this is the shared desire of everyone involved, it can be complex. Fortunately, the days of health care providers, specifically physicians, being in a role of authority without question or consequence is changing. Quality health care professionals will be happy to answer reasonable questions and will be encouraged by your desire to be engaged in your own health. They may also view it as an opportunity to gain your trust and respect. Here are some things you not only can, but should ask doctors, especially on your first visit to a new one:
What are your credentials?

Ask them where they went to college, medical school and did residency or fellowships. If you are curious about this information to go ahead and ask. While attending a particular college or medical school doesn’t in any way insure a higher level of competence, you may find you have something in common and that may open a dialogue that lends itself to a very useful conversation. Ask about Board certification in a particular specialty. For example, a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon is very different than a “Cosmetic Surgeon” and patients are often unaware and afraid to ask. Don’t assume all qualifications are equal. Certain certifications require extensive additional training and testing that indicate a level of commitment and expertise on the part of the physician that is significant.


Have you been disciplined or had complaints made to the Medical Board?

This is a very important question. Discipline imposed by the Board is usually public and can be accessed as easily as looking on the Board’s website. (in Minnesota the link is ) However, Boards typically are quite vague as to the nature of the complaint and discipline enforced. They do not make complaints public if there has not been discipline so it is not unreasonable to ask your healthcare provider. The level of trust you are putting in their hands is worth the energy it takes to overcome any idea you are making them uncomfortable. Again, a quality provider should not have any issue with this question. I will cover discipline more thoroughly in future newsletters. I spent time as an investigator for the Health Licensing Boards and gained a wealth of knowledge as to what health care consumers should know.


What are your business hours?

Most of us assume doctors work long hours and that is very true of many physicians. The dedication it takes to become a physician and hours far beyond 40 per week many put in, should be proof of their commitment to patient care. The reason this question is important especially when choosing a primary physician is that some are only in the office certain days of the week. This can be important to consider if your schedule isn’t as flexible. They may not be in the office or in an office close to you on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If this is the case at the very least ask who fills in for them at times they aren’t available.


What is your philosophy on…?

Ask them what their philosophy is on things that matter to you such as holistic and preventive therapies, pain management, nutrition or chronic disease management. Just like all of us, physicians have varying ideas about how they manage patients and disease based on their experience and evidence. When they share their philosophy, ask what brought them to their particular belief. It isn’t productive for anyone if you have a primary provider who doesn’t believe alternative therapies provide any benefit if they are at the core of your philosophy. Always be respectful and mindful of their education and experience. They spent a tremendous amount of time learning and training to manage health and cure disease. This in no way compares to what you may have read on the internet or in books, it just doesn’t but if the philosophies are completely at odds you should probably choose someone else to manage your care.

Bonus: Here’s an additional ten questions doctors wish their patients would ask based on survey data from U.S. News & World Report.