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The High-Tech Heart: Feeling Certain Your High-Tech Treatment is Right for You

separator When your doctor recommends a high-tech heart treatment for you—bypass surgery, valve replacement, angioplasty, or any other type of procedure—you want to feel completely confident that it’s the right thing for you. You may even have read articles or heard somewhere that sometimes, doctors recommend aggressive treatments that patients don’t really need. The last thing you need to be feeling is doubt about something as serious as a heart procedure.

How can you be sure that you really do need a treatment that you probably aren’t looking forward to? What’s the best way to get rid of any doubt you may have?

A trusting, open relationship with your doctor
If you respect your doctor and feel as though your doctor understands you and what’s important to you, any doubts or concerns you have about treatment are likely to fade away. But it takes some effort from both parties to create that kind of trusting relationship.

According to an article in the 19 May 2004 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), there are five basic “communication tasks” that doctors should carry out when they’re explaining a treatment to their patients:

  • Find out what the patient—and the patient’s family—expects from treatment
  • Create a feeling of “partnership” between doctor and patient
  • Explain why a certain treatment or procedure is likely to be effective, and also describe anything that is uncertain
  • Make recommendations based on both professional judgment and the preference of the patient
  • Check to make sure the patient understands and agrees

What is your role?
There’s something that many patients should know: not all doctors have had a lot of training in communicating with their patients. Even the JAMA article acknowledges that much.  Some doctors be better at communicating than others. So you have to do your part as well. What does that entail?

  • Tell your doctor what you think the treatment will do for you, to make sure that your expectations are realistic. Example: “After I’ve recovered from this surgery, I expect to be able to go swimming a few times a week, just like I do now. Is that realistic of me?”
  • Share your preferences about treatment with your doctor. Example: “I understand that you think I should have bypass surgery, but it seems too aggressive to me. Please explain to me again why it’s so important for me to have it.”
  • Share any doubts you have. Example: “I heard from my friend Lisa that bypass surgery isn’t really necessary if you change your diet and get more exercise. Is that true?”
  • When your doctor has explained everything to you and asks you if you have questions, that’s a good time to say something like: “Okay, what I hear you saying is that my arteries are blocked and you recommend that I have surgery to improve blood flow to my heart. Ill be in the hospital for x number of days, then I’ll spend x number of weeks recovering, and then gradually I’ll begin to get back into my normal routine. These are the possible complications (repeat the complications your doctor has told you about).”

If you and your doctor are able to communicate openly about all aspects of your treatment, you’ll know in your heart—no pun intended!—that any surgery or other procedure is the right thing for you.

Journal of the American Medical Association, 19 May 2004
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