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How to ask questions (and how not to!): Partnering with your Reproductive Endocrinologist

Posted by Shari DeGraff Stewart Julia Fichtner Krahm Julia on with 0 Comments

By Shari DeGraff Stewart and Julia Fichtner Krahm Julia

Why don’t we speak up as active participants in our treatment?  We confuse the appropriateness of asking questions with the appropriateness of how to ask. 

Let’s face it:  babies are magical and we can get magical in our thinking: If I become the troublesome, problem patient, will this physician pay a little less attention to my case and am I decreasing my chances of success? 

Your goal is to be that courteous, respectful patient who, far from interfering with the treatment, asks great questions and adds her own understanding and reasoning to the partnership with your physician.  Here are some specifics:

  • Your needs.  Asking questions in terms of your need to understand is more inviting than just a ingeneral “why.”
    • It would help me to understand ….
    • I would appreciate it if you could explain….
    • I feel less anxious if I have more information…
    • Can you help me understand what factors may be affecting this?

“Why are you…” or “why can’t I….” could have a suggestion of criticism. On a bad day, a “why” question can feel like you are asking someone what they did wrong.

  • Appreciation.  Requests, with a sense of appreciation, are usually more appealing than demands: 
    • I would appreciate… 
    • It would help me… 
    • Would you be willing to…?
    • Can you help me…?

These phrases are going to work better than “I want or need….”

  • “I won’t hold you to this….” Recognize the reason the physician may be cautious with information is he or she doesn’t want to give you false hope, create discouragement, or change your experience through the power of suggestion.  Make it clear you understand he or she cannot make promises, and that it helps you to have information.
    • I know you don’t have a crystal ball, I’m just asking you to give me some idea based upon your experience….
    • I won’t hold you to this, but can you give me an idea of what chance we have for success:  30%, 50%, more?
    • Can you give me your best opinion?  Realistically, what are my chances?  It helps me emotionally and mentally to prepare if I have some idea what to expect.
    • I know side effects vary greatly, but it helps me to have some idea what to expect on a medication or during the procedure….
  • Say the good things too.  Especially if you are saying something difficult, remember the power of saying the positive things also. 
    • I have had very good experiences with you staff.  I need to talk to you about one thing that is bothering me….
    • I respect you and your reputation.  I am very grateful for all that you have done for me.  There is something that I would like to ask you to consider….

Avoid the use of the word “but.”  Say your positive sentences and end them with a verbal period.  Start a request or a complaint as a new sentence.  When you link a positive and a complaint with the word “but,” the listener only hears the complaint.  “I usually like you, but today you are getting on my nerves,” sounds only negative.  “I really like you.  I would like to talk to you about one problem” sounds a lot different.

  • Respect time.  If you are asking for additional information, you are also asking for that person’s time.  Add phrases that respect that time.
    • When it’s convenient….
    • When you have time, can you….
    • Can we make an appointment to…?

You absolutely HAVE to write down your questions before going to the appointment, to make the best use of everyone’s time, but also because your brain may not be functioning at its best.  I often hear later, “All I did was cry and I couldn’t remember a single question.”  Or “I had it all planned out, but felt uncomfortable asking the questions, so I didn’t.”  If you think you will avoid asking the necessary questions, then hand the list to the physician and sit back, listen, and get ready to write.  You also have to write down the answers—or use a tape recorder.  During an emotionally stressful time, everyone has difficulty absorbing and remembering information. 

The truth is, even if you were a problem patient, it would not affect your care with 99% of the physicians.  But, life is short and this person is working hard to try to help you. Picture yourself as the patient who makes your physician smile at the end of a long day because you are knowledgeable and gently persistent.  Not asking a question can cause days and nights of tears and anguish—perhaps unnecessarily.  There is much you cannot control in infertility. To simply relinquish all control, active participation, thinking, and assessing on your part, creates greater emotional turmoil and weakens the partnership you should have with your physician.  Ask questions and be informed and do so with respect and courtesy.  Use the strength of your love and desire for your child to empower yourself and strengthen the partnership working toward your baby.

Reprinted with permission from The Stewart Institute for Infertility

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