When you are trying to make an important decision about your treatment options, it’s not uncommon to feel bombarded with information from many sources. For many women considering surgical options for gynecologic conditions, trying to know where to start and what (or who) to believe can be a bewildering process.
Here are 8 tips for sorting through the information and educating yourself as a patient. In my practice, we care for women with pelvic floor disorders such as pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence, or fecal incontinence, but many of these same principles can help you when you’re faced with making any type of medical decision.
- DO some research on your symptoms or diagnosis (if you have one already) – BUT stick to highly reputable websites like www.webmd.com or websites that end with .gov, .org or .edu. Major academic medical centers tend to offer information rooted in research rather than hearsay. National organizations like the American Urogynecology Society often have patient information on their sites, or provide a link to a separate patient site. Randomly “Googling” for information can bring up as many sources of misinformation as fact-based info, so search carefully.
- DO make a list of questions from your research to ask your doctors about. Take notes while they’re answering. Feel confident before you leave that you know the answers. Bring a friend or family member to help you listen.
- DO make sure that you’re getting treatment that is safe, modern, and tailored to your lifestyle and needs. Make sure you know all the options and participate in choosing one. Be honest with your physician if something’s not quite right for you. If you’re not going to follow the instructions, say that and ask for something else.
- DO see a doctor you trust – and then trust what they say. It won’t always match the “stories” you’ve read online. You want your medical care tailored to you, not the general population, so maybe not all you’ve read applies. Make sure you ask “why?” and understand the answer. If you have any concern, get a second opinion at a larger medical center.
- DO ask your doctor if he or she recommends certain websites for you to read.
- DO call back and ask any additional questions that come to mind after your visit ends.
- DON’T read someone’s blog or personal horror story related to the condition you have. But if you can’t resist the temptation of the Internet, remind yourself that these are often very select, unusual cases. Stick with information that applies to many people (or just to you).
- DON’T assume that what your friends and family members experience will happen to you. Sometimes they have very different problems that you do, even if it sounds similar. Sometimes they’re not telling you everything that went on. And sometimes treatment that works for them won’t work for you. Keep asking your doctor questions to know for sure. These people are looking out for you, but if you find a doctor you trust, he or she will be able to explain the evidence supporting their treatment recommendations.
Take the next step:
- Learn more about the U-M Pelvic Floor Research Group.
- See why the U-M is a leader in pelvic floor disorder care.
- Check out patient resources from the American Urogynecologic Society.
- 10 things every woman should know about her bladder.
- Read Carol’s story: Talking openly about vaginal prolapse
- Check out our other blog posts about pelvic floor disorders.
Megan Schimpf, MD, completed her undergraduate and medical education at the University of Michigan before going to the University of Connecticut for residency training. She completed her fellowship in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Hartford Hospital before working on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania at Pennsylvania Hospital. Dr. Schimpf is now board certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. Her clinical interests include surgical outcomes, impact of obstetrics on the pelvic floor, vaginal and robotic surgery for prolapse along with urinary incontinence treatments. With a background in journalism as well, Dr. Schimpf believes that no one should have to suffer or limit themselves due to pelvic floor disorders.
The University of Michigan’s Women’s Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital is a leader women’s health care. Consistently ranked among the America’s top gynecology programs by U.S. News & World Report, U-M is committed to unsurpassed patient care for women.