Patients are being encouraged to speak up at their doctor’s office and ask their GP questions about the tests and prescriptions they’re being offered.
While the doctor-patient relationship is one built on trust, Choosing Wisely Australia says times have changed and patients should feel comfortable questioning their health professionals.
“It’s important patients have all the information they need about the benefits and risks of any test, treatment or procedure being recommended,” says Dr Robyn Lindner, client relations manager at NPS MedicineWise.
“This can … help people to make an informed choice about how they want to proceed with the management of their condition.”
A recent study found that Australian doctors are drastically overprescribing antibiotics, with many dishing them out four to nine times more than recommended.
It’s estimated that 4.61 million patients could have been inappropriately medicated.
Lindner says this number could reduced if patients learn to make well-informed decisions by increasing their health literacy.
“This isn’t about people second guessing GPs or questioning their expertise, but being confident and comfortable about the joint decisions they’re making about their health,” Lindner says.
However, GP Dr Matt Young says it’s a fine line between questioning your doctor and accepting that they are the expert in the situation.
“If people are questioning in the right way then that’s great,” he says.
“If they want to broaden their education about their own health that’s great, but if they’re saying ‘I don’t need that’ or ‘what do I need that for?’ then that’s just going to get everyone annoyed, particularly the doctor.”
Young says some doctors feel pressured by patients to hand over prescriptions for antibiotics, despite knowing they aren’t going to help the patient get better.
“There a certain quota of people that go to the doctor and if they don’t leave with a script they feel disappointed and they don’t feel like they got their money’s worth,” he says.
He says some patients become confrontational when they’re not given the medication they want.
“If a patient comes in and they’re quite assertively requesting a script for antibiotics and you say no that’s quite a difficult conversation to have,” he explains.
“If they storm out they’re just as likely to give you a spray as they leave and yell across the waiting room that you’re the worst doctor they’ve ever seen and then people get up and leave.
“[A doctor’s office] is a business and if patients leave disenchanted with your service and don’t come back then that’s going to put a dent in your business.”
He says much of the public needs better health literacy.
“Patients need to be educated and that needs to come in some kind of public forum,” he explains.
“If it’s a viral infection, antibiotics are going to do diddly-squat for you. So if the patient’s expectations become that the antibiotics aren’t required unless it’s bacterial then that’s going to make our jobs a whole lot easier and it’s going to make more appropriate prescribing a lot easier to do.”
Choosing Wisely has outlined five key questions to ask your doctor on your next visit: