Health care involves a lot of decision-making: Who should I use as my primary care physician? What treatment option will I choose for a given condition? If I'm injured, should I choose surgery or try to manage the issue with physical therapy first? These are big questions that require careful consideration.
But in some cases, making a health care decision for ourselves and our families can become automatic, with our choices dictated by social norm and tradition rather than hard facts. The decisions that everyone around you makes and accepts might not have a whole lot of science to back them up, or they simply may not be as relevant to your specific situation. How can you be sure you're making the best health care decision for you and your family?
Case in Point
A prime example of this phenomenon is male circumcision. In many parts of the world, this practice has been in place for thousands of years, and parents still routinely request it without a lot of thought as to why. In recent years, however, circumcision's necessity and benefits have become a topic of debate. Individuals on both sides can be very passionate about the issue: Some argue that the practice prevents illness and infection, while others claim it's an archaic tradition with no actual benefits.
If you're a parent of a newborn boy, then, what should you do? Which side should you listen to? How can you make a health care decision that you're comfortable and happy with?
In the case of circumcision, a close look at the evidence reveals that there isn't a lot of science to back up either viewpoint. The hygienic benefits of the practice aren't nearly as great as what was once believed, but it doesn't seem like there are a lot of risks associated with the procedure, either.
Making Your Own Call
Circumcision is just one example of how social norms or emotions can impact our health care decisions. Ultimately, there's a case to be made for each side -- but it's only once you know the facts and understand the pros and cons of each option that you can make the decision that's right for you and your family.
When faced with an important health care decision, how should you proceed? Here are some basic steps to help guide you:
- Talk to your doctor. Be open and honest with your doctor, expressing your concerns and opinions about a proposed treatment. Don't be afraid to ask questions, either. This could actually be more of a process than a finite step, as you may want to consult your doctor several times as you learn and process more information.
- Do research. It's also important that you take time to educate yourself on the topic or condition. In addition to looking at any recent research, you can also go online and read the thoughts, experiences, and opinions of people who have been through a similar situation.
- Discuss it with your family and friends. Talk to someone you trust and get their input, especially if they've also been faced with this decision in the past. This also provides an opportunity to help your close family and friends better understand your thinking on medical matters.
- Check with yourself. With all of this research and fact-checking, it's also important that you make sure the decision meshes with your personal values. The thoughts and opinions of others can help a great deal, but the final choice belongs to you.
Anything involving your health and well-being is a very personal decision. Before you make your choice, be sure you're fully informed and not simply following social norms or being pressured to do something you don't fully understand. Once you have the information in your hands, you'll be able to be confident in whatever choice you make.