This is a continuing series using information from the booklet written by the National Institute on Aging working with the National Institutes of Health called: Talking with Your Doctor. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH Publication No. 05-3452 August 2005 (Reprinted April 2010)
There may come a time when your needs take you beyond your doctor’s abilities and he or she refers you to a specialist. According to the booklet, you may even request one yourself but you will need to check with your insurance plan for any requirements regarding referrals from your primary doctor. When you finally visit the specialist you should prepare to ask questions in the same way you would with your doctor.
The specialist should have already seen your medical records or test reports. While the booklet doesn’t say this I think a good specialist will ask questions first before discussing the diagnosis. I say this because there may be things the generalist misses or you may not have thought to disclose. I find it is also a safety feature so that they are diagnosing the patient they think they are meeting. Have you noticed that even in a regular appointment that each new nurse will ask the same questions that last one did and then the doctor usually asks them again? At least it seems to work that way in the big organizations. The small offices may not operate that way but when going to the specialist, one whom you have not visited before, they should be asking questions of you before any discussion of diagnosis.
When they start describing their diagnosis they will probably use terms that you are unfamiliar with. Ask them about the terms. Don’t be hesitant to say, “I don’t know much about that. What does that mean?” If you are still wondering, ask for materials or referrals to other sources for research. The booklet recommends that you have the specialist send material to your doctor. That allows him/her to be part of the discussion and keep track of your medical care.
Here are some questions you might ask your specialist:
• What is your diagnosis?
• What treatment do you recommend? How soon do I need to begin the new treatment?
• Will you discuss my care with my primary doctor?
Next: Things You May Experience When Talking with Your Doctor