A year ago, my 27-year old son injured his knee playing soccer. After months of conservative treatment and continued pain, an MRI showed a fracture in the cartilage in his knee, an uncommon problem for a person his age. We worked together to prepare for his appointment with a well-referred orthopedic surgeon, and my son took good notes.
He called to tell me that two surgical options had been recommended, both FDA approved, one more “typical” and one more “experimental.” In fact, the doctor enthusiastically offered participation in a clinical study on the newer procedure, which from his experience he believed showed potential for longer lasting results. Still, both procedures were going to require significant recovery and rehabilitation, and the experimental procedure may or may not be covered by our insurance.
My son is a generally conservative person when it comes to his healthcare. He clearly wanted improvement from his pain, yet the recovery and healing from these procedures left him dismayed. He liked and felt confidence in the first surgeon, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about the impact of the choices he’d been offered.
We tend not to think of decisions we make about our healthcare as “buying decisions,” but in fact they are. While we may think we buy from people we like, data suggests that we really buy from people we trust. Unfortunately we often feel forced to make decisions on the “like” vs. “trust” factors related to healthcare providers and procedures sooner and with less information than we might in other areas of our life.
In the absence of an emergency or a time-sensitive situation, irrespective of your doctor’s enthusiasm or likability, if for any reason you haven’t reached a place of comfortable understanding and acceptance with your treatment options, step back and keep asking questions.
Hearing my son’s ambivalence, even as he told me that he liked Surgeon #1, I strongly encouraged him to consider seeking a second, and maybe even a third opinion, to build trust in his ultimate decision. Interestingly, it appeared from my research that there might be another option to consider that Surgeon #1 hadn’t mentioned.
I identified Surgeon #2 who also had expertise with knee cartilage issues. He felt that given my son’s age and the size of his fracture, the alternative option was less invasive, would have less recovery time, and might very well take care of his pain without further intervention. And if it didn’t, he outlined an approach to Surgeon #1’s proposed procedure as a fall back.
Which approach would you have taken? Which doctor would you want as your partner? Both physicians are well-trained and respected, both approaches well-researched, and there was no hands-down clinical winner.
The real question is how you arrive at a healthcare decision that doesn’t have an unequivocal “right” answer. The outcome isn’t ever guaranteed, but helping you find the way to your best solution is one important way a private patient advocate can help with your path to a decision you can live with.
If you’re facing a medical decision and aren’t “feeling the trust,” consider a free 15 minute consultation to see how I can help.