THE FOUR IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR UP FRONT:

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One thing patients can do is ask four simple questions when doctors are proposing an intervention, whether an X-ray, genetic test or surgery.

First, what difference will it make? Will the test results change our approach to treatment?

Second, how much improvement in terms of prolongation of life, reduction in risk of a heart attack or other problem is the treatment actually going to make?

Third, how likely and severe are the side effects?

And fourth, is the hospital a teaching hospital?

The JAMA Internal Medicine study found that mortality was higher overall at nonteaching hospitals.

It is surprising how uncomfortable some physicians get when you ask these questions. No one likes to be second-guessed or have to justify their decisions. But studies show that when patients are systematically given information about benefits and risks they tend to consent to fewer interventions and feel more informed about their decisions.

So when your mother is being rushed to the hospital, it might be best not to seek the most famous senior doctor, but to ask those four questions.