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What Should You Do When Your Doctors Disagree?

How to Sort Through the Confusion


Updated July 01, 2014

If you have arthritis, you likely have more than one doctor. You may have a primary care physician, rheumatologist, orthopedic surgeon, pain management doctor, or other specialist. Each doctor offers their own expertise.

Your Responsibility to Keep Your Doctors Informed

Your treatment plan will be based on all of their input. They will address your concerns and attempt to solve each of your medical problems. At times their advice and recommendations will overlap. That's why it is essential for each doctor to have your complete medical history, a list of all of your current medications, and all recent test results. If they don't share information, remember that it is ultimately your responsibility to make sure each doctor has accurate and current information.

It's also your responsibility to understand your diagnosis, why certain tests are ordered, and the reasons behind treatment recommendations. You may think it's complicated to have to keep track of all this -- some even prefer to leave it all up to the doctors. But there are times when doctors don't agree. Talk about complicated! Smooth sailing can hit rough waters when doctors don't agree.

Disagreement Between Doctors Is Rare

This has happened to me only once, in the many years I have been doctoring for rheumatoid arthritis. Because it doesn't happen often -- that doctors don't agree -- it kind of catches you off-guard when it does happen. Who do you listen to? Who is right? Will the one doctor be mad if you go with the other's advice? What is proper patient etiquette when this does happen?

First and foremost, don't get rattled if this happens to you. Stay logical and remember these 5 tips for dealing with doctors who don't agree:

Listen and Understand
Ask the doctors to explain the reasons behind their recommendation. Understand the benefits and risks associated with the treatment. If one doctor is in favor of a particular treatment for you, make sure you understand how you will theoretically benefit. If the other doctor is against that treatment, understand why the doctor feels it is not your best option. If two different treatments are offered, understand the differences.

Look Up More Information
Learn as much as you can about the treatments. Ask your doctor if more information is available. If not, look it up in the Internet. Remember that health information on the Internet is to be used as a resource -- not intended to replace physician's advice. It's important for you to gather as much information as you can. Your doctor will give you basic facts, but before you can think it through, you need to dig deeper.

Ask the Doctors to Consult With Each Other
All of your doctors are part of the same team -- your health care team. Just as patients are told to communicate with their doctors, the doctors should be communicating with each other too, when necessary. Don't be afraid to suggest it. If you think it would be helpful, and if they haven't already suggested doing it themselves, ask if the doctors would discuss and try to come to an agreement.

Consider a Third Opinion
It's common to hear about second opinions, but third? Yes, a third, if need be. If, after your doctors have explained their positions, you still feel uncertain or unclear -- continue gathering information and opinions until it all makes sense to you.

Remember That You Have a Voice
The ultimate tiebreaker may be staring back at you when you look in the mirror. Yes, you! Don't forget that you have a voice. You are the one who must commit to remaining compliant with your treatment plan. You are the one who must take any risks that exist. You must consider expense, convenience, and realistic expectations. Put value on your own perspective -- just be sure you feel fully informed before making a decision.

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