How to Make Good Medical Decisions
Medical decisions are naturally tough to make. You feel as though there’s a lot at stake, and you want to make sure that you are making the right choice. With technology making information even more accessible, it might feel as though there is almost too muchto consider, thus making it harder to come up with a concrete decision, never mind the second thoughts that may enter once the decision is officially made.
Is there a way to feel more confident about the choices we make regarding our health? Yes, there is. There are steps to take and skills we can develop that will assist in our decision- making process over time, and many of them already come naturally to us.
Take Your Time
We make hundreds of decisions throughout the course of a day, many of which are done within an instant. Don’t feel pressure to make a decision regarding your health right away. It’s okay to take a step back and ask for an hour, or overnight, to make a final decision. You are entitled to take time to obtain all of the information you need to know to make a healthy, thought-out decision.
One study recently conducted by the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics revealed that “delaying a choice, in general, can help us make better decisions,” citing brain imaging which revealed how undesirable options activated “the anterior insula, an area associated with feelings of disgust or anger.” This contrasts greatly from those who took time to think logically about the decision, as it resulted in more optimal results. As such, taking your time when making medical decisions is a helpful skill that you should put in to practice.
Intuitively, when making a decision regarding your health, you will involve your doctor(s) in the process. Your relationship with your doctor should be open, allowing you to talk freely and ask questions as they arise. In this relationship, you are equals, and your opinion is just as valid (if not more) as that of a medical professional.
It is important to note that “a number of factors related to cancer care necessitate a patient-centered approach to communication: (1) cancer care is extremely complex and patients' treatment choices have serious implications for their health outcomes and quality of life; (2) the evidence supporting many decisions in cancer care is limited or incomplete; and (3) trade-offs in the risks and benefits of cancer treatment choices may be weighed differently by individual patients, and clinicians need to elicit patient needs, values, and preferences in these circumstances.” As such, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor or medical team for any reason while making decisions regarding your health. They are there to answer any questions you may have, especially those involving side effects, risks, or simply translating medical jargon into terms easier to understand.
Your cancer community is invaluable, and you are never alone. If you are having difficulty making a decision, know that you can turn to your loved ones for their opinions. Feel free to “pass your choices by your loved ones; discuss them with your health care team, and consider talking with others via a cancer support group or online cancer community.” In that same token, don’t feel pressure to follow their advice fully. Make sure that you are personally comfortable with your decisions, even if they go against what your community may have suggested.
Look at the Bigger Picture
Should you feel overwhelmed in the decision- making process, don’t forget to take a step back to look at the bigger picture. Getting a different perspective on a situation is vital, medically related or not. Sometimes “the same facts can have different meanings when seen from different perspectives. The perspective each person adopts influences what is considered central or peripheral, obvious or obscure, and even present or absent,” so taking the time to look at the particular predicament from a different point of view could reveal new information that will make your decision easier, or clearer to make. 
At the end of the day, you are not only the patient, but the captain of your treatment decisions. That is truly powerful, and you deserve to feel confident in what you can control, which are the decisions you make. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by the options you are presented with; utilize the skills and concepts we discussed below to assist in making a rational, logical decision that you can stand behind and be confident in.
“Making a Decision? Take Your Time.” Scientific American. 2010.
“Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis.” NCBI.
Eldridge, Lynne, MD. “How to Be Your Own Advocate as a Cancer Patient.” Very Well. 2016.
Chan, David. “Learning to see things from another’s perspective.” Straits Times. 2016.