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Bob Carroll
Bob Carroll
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Be A Questioning Patient In Your Doctor's Office

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I think I would like Dr. Fred Ernst. He gave a talk in Alabama recently that should have been on national television. The Birmingham News article, excerpted below, hits the main point – patients have to ask questions and, then, even more questions. Maybe a doctor can comment on this proactive approach to health care.

Patients urged to ask doctors questions

In an era of medical errors, people need to ask their doctors some tough questions, a patient advocate told a group Tuesday.

“You’ve got to do your homework,” said Dr. Fred Ernst, a semi-retired anesthesiologist who speaks, writes and testifies about the hazards of medicine. “You’ve got to be proactive.”

Speaking to the Newcomers Club of Birmingham, Ernst said patients should ask blunt questions of their doctors. Among the examples he discussed were:

Ask whether your doctor has ever been sued for malpractice or disciplined by the state. A good, confident doctor ought to be able to answer that question without a problem, Ernst said. And being sued doesn’t mean they are a bad doctor. “Just get a feel: Was it a frivolous thing or not,” Ernst said.

If you are contemplating whether to have a medical procedure, ask the doctor how many times he has performed the operation and his success rate. If it’s surgery, ask about infection rates.

When having a procedure involving intravenous sedation, ask about the credentials of the person who will be administering the drugs. Ernst recommended that the drugs be given by an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist, even if the procedure involves conscious sedation. “That’s because so much conscious sedation becomes unconscious sedation,” he said. “The line between conscious sedation and unconscious sedation is very, very thin.”

Ernst said patients should stop and think twice about any cosmetic or medical operation that a doctor wants to perform in the office. More and more doctors are practicing office-based surgery, and he cited a study in Florida which found that surgery in an office was much riskier for patients than surgery performed in ambulatory surgical centers or hospitals.