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How to ensure you get the care you want and need

Written by Diane Archer

Judith Garber reports for the Lown Institute on why you should not believe every new medical study you learn about. There’s a lot of medical misinformation. Be prepared to question your doctor about a recommended treatment and share in the decision-making to avoid getting care that you do not want or need.

As a result of poorly conducted medical research, a large swath of study findings that you and your doctors might hear about are problematic at best. They are unreliable and do not help patients. In many cases, for example, researchers are paid by industry to generate findings of benefit to industry.

Of course, you know that you shouldn’t believe everything you read. Just because a reputable journal publishes study findings does not mean that they are to be believed. Yet, like all of us, health care professionals at times believe them. Even they don’t always have the ability to independently evaluate the reliability of new research findings. The best source for independent analysis of studies on the benefits of a particular medical treatment is Cochrane.org.

It goes without saying that people don’t have the tools to independently assess the reliability of evidence. And, most of us do not have the desire to do so. Rather, we tend to appreciate the benefits that a study might highlight and minimize risks.

Shared decison-making between you and your doctors helps to ensure you do appreciate the risks of a treatment, along with its benefits. It engages you in conversation with your doctors about your health preferences, priorities and goals. And, you get a good idea of your treatment options. And, it likely will bring you greater satisfaction.

Because not all physicians will engage you in a conversation about your priorities, be prepared to ask them about the treatment they are proposing. Find out how well they understand the treatment, How frequently have they recommended it to their patients. Have them tell you about the harms patients might face from a particular treatment, as well as the likelihood of benefit. Ask them whether other physicians typically recommend the treatment and, if not, what treatment is typically recommended for someone like you.

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