Questioning or Pestering Your Doc?

By Frances K. Howell

Ever feel like you’re bothering your doctor with too many questions?

As executive director of DES Action, an education and advocacy group for those exposed to the endocrine-disruptor DES (diethylstilbestrol), I know the importance of fully understanding the health risks caused by the drug prescribed to prevent miscarriage in the 1950s and 60s. We work to empower individuals to be informed medical care consumers. If you don’t know the short- and long-term risks of a drug you are prescribed, ask.

A member of DES Action shared with me that she left her doctor’s office after a visit without having all the answers she needed: “I guess I just wanted her to explain it to me, without my having to bug her with a bunch of questions. I don’t want to become a pain-in-the-neck patient who asks a bunch of questions. She is very nice and very competent, but I just wish she would explain to me more what is happening in my body.”

This made me think immediately about what a health care provider told us at DES Action a few years back. This is from Candy Tedeschi, a nurse practitioner in Long Island, NY:

“Now for my soapbox speech: I am a firm believer in women knowing what is going on in their bodies — ask questions, ask for copies of your records if needed, but above all else, understand what is going on with yourself. Ask questions until you understand. I know time is often a problem when you are seeing your health care provider, but this is your body and you need to know what’s happening. How can you make health care decisions if you don’t understand? Ask for the medical term for your particular condition, and a definition. (Soapbox closed.)”

What Tedeschi said has empowered me to ask questions and thoroughly understand what’s going on in my body before I leave the doctor’s office. I hope it does the same for all of our members — and everyone reading this blog.

You have legitimate concerns that need answers. If you didn’t get the answers you need during an office visit, perhaps you should make another appointment and go in with a list of your questions. Or ask if you can email the doctor or set up a follow-up phone call to your appointment. Asking questions in this context is not impolite — a doctor’s appointment isn’t a social gathering. You are paying a professional for information. Find out what is happening in your body and ask about everything else that has been bothering you. Be specific with your questions and don’t worry about asking too many. And be honest too. Candy Tedeschi would want you to find out all that you need to know.


Frances K. Howell

Frances K. Howell

Frances K. Howell is the executive director of DES Action USA, where she works to educate, empower and advocate for those exposed to the anti-miscarriage drug diethylstilbestrol (DES). Her background includes broadcast journalism in Seattle and Houston, as well as media relations work as director of media relations at the University of Houston. A member of DES Action for many years, she became executive director in 2005.


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