Here in the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center, we work with patients to help them find information about medical treatments and conditions. We are often contacted by people who are seeking a particular treatment. Because of the proliferation of medical news and advertisements, people often hear of new treatments that they are interested in trying. The person might ask, “does the hospital provide brachytherapy?” or “I am interested in anterior hip replacement, do any doctors here do this surgery?” They might have seen a commercial for the Oxford knee replacement with its life time guarantee and its comparison of knee replacement with peeling an apple and say “I want an Oxford knee.”
It is understandable. Patients want to pursue the newest and best treatments available.
However, this approach has several pitfalls:
- Sometimes the new treatment is not scientifically proven.
- Many times the treatment that the patient heard about, perhaps a new drug or a new procedure, is still in the development stage. The story might even say that it will be a few years before the treatment or procedure is available. Perhaps it is being tested in a few clinics or sites.
- Patients should be aware that for some new treatments there may not be much long term data on effectiveness or side effects.
- The treatment may not be appropriate for their particular circumstances.
The danger in shopping for a treatment is that the patient is diagnosing himself or herself and choosing what treatment he or she thinks is appropriate. Before deciding on a course of treatment, a patient should discuss the options with his or her primary care provider or a specialist.
It is important that everyone have a medical home, a place where they receive their care and have an ongoing relationship with their provider. Through a process called shared decision-making the patient and the provider discuss the patient’s particular case and treatment options. You talk about your values and ask questions, and the provider gives you knowledge and experience. Together, you decide on the treatment.
There is no harm in asking about a new treatment. In fact, to get the best care possible you should ask lots of questions, but beware of treatment shopping, the best treatment is the one that is tailored to your specific needs and situation and is arrived at after consultation with your health care providers.
The next time you hear about a new treatment feel free to do some research but discuss it with your health care provider.
Alan P. Lampson, MLS, is the lead of the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center at The University of Vermont Medical Center.