7 Questions Every Woman over 40 May Want to Ask a New Doctor
Around half the U.S. population will go through menopause, but it’s a topic that’s still not widely spoken about. The lack of discourse leaves many women feeling confused and fearful about the symptoms they experience, like hot flashes, night sweats, and shifts in mood.
Midlife can make the process of finding a new doctor even more daunting. Will they understand my symptoms? Will they spend the time with me I need? Will they treat me holistically and not just prescribe right away? These are some of the worries that come up as we move out of our childbearing years.
But if you choose wisely, it can also be transformative. “Menopause can be a time of change and unpredictability, making it so important to have a trusting and open relationship with your provider,” says Boston-based board-certified nutritional psychiatrist and author Uma Naidoo, M.D.
Every new patient-provider relationship starts with a conversation, Naidoo adds. This is an opportunity to gain a mutual understanding of your treatment goals and ensure that your values align.
To help that first discussion go smoothly, here are seven questions you may consider asking any new doctor:
1. What percentage of your patients are menopausal, and do you have any specific training or expertise in this area?
“It’s important that women seek healthcare providers who are experienced in taking care of women in midlife and beyond,” says Rebecca C. Brightman, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.
Some healthcare providers are members of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) and can even be NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioners (NCMP). If this is the case, you can expect them to have knowledge about the specific aches, pains, sexual concerns, and other health issues that patients experience during midlife.
That being said, there are many great doctors that don’t have this distinction. In any case, it’s more important to ask the right questions to see if your new doctor is the right fit for you.
2. Is your healthcare team generally a collaborative one, and do you have specialists you regularly refer to?
“A multidisciplinary team will help to ensure that your health concerns are addressed from numerous angles and that there is ample collaboration and communication between your medical providers,” Naidoo says.
If your doctor collaborates with allied health professionals, such as registered dieticians, physical therapists, social workers, pharmacists, and mental health specialists, it’s much easier to create a synergy, with you at the center of the team, Naidoo explains.
Brightman agrees. “A skilled provider will have a network of colleagues with various expertise,” she says. “When physicians can easily communicate with one another, their patients receive even better care.”
3. Do you prescribe hormone therapy, or are you open to alternatives?
Hormone therapy is the most effective therapy for hot flashes (though it’s not recommended for all people), according to the National Institute on Aging. But there are also nonhormonal treatment options, such as dietary modifications and exercise choices, that can help reduce symptoms for some people.
If you’re interested in discussing complementary and alternative therapies or lifestyle changes that could benefit you, let your doctor know. “I always discuss lifestyle, diet, and exercise with my patients as these factors strongly influence overall well‑being,” Brightman says. “With healthy habits, the aging process is made so much easier. During visits, I like to tell my patients about some of the symptoms they may begin to experience, so that they can be proactive and know when to seek treatment.”
A varied approach may be right for you, says Naidoo. “Being able to have open conversations about lifestyle interventions, like dietary changes, to address aspects of health, such as healthier brain aging and mood support, that weren’t previously considered in the pantheon of ‘lifestyle conditions,’ is key to a holistic health approach.”
4. What is your experience with complementary and integrative therapies for perimenopause and menopause?
Because menopause and perimenopause are often misunderstood in our culture, doctors are sometimes quick to prescribe medications rather than treat the patient holistically or consider a mind-body approach, notes Naidoo.
Aleece Fosnight is a physician assistant and sexual health counselor based in Asheville, North Carolina. “I have heard so many of my patients make comments about how their previous providers said, ‘Oh, don't worry about it until it becomes a problem or becomes an issue,’” she says. An integrative practitioner will approach your care with a preventive mindset, Fosnight adds.
If you’re looking for a holistic approach to menopause care, finding a provider who is experienced and open to such care—and stays up to date on the newest research in the field—is crucial.
“It’s important to have a provider who is well-versed in potential drug interactions and other do’s and don’ts,” Naidoo explains, emphasizing that this can be especially relevant to women who use herbal supplements or other more alternative remedies.
5. Do you assess mental health concerns and psychological health in your practice?
Even if your doctor doesn’t specialize in mental health, it can be beneficial to work with a provider who recognizes its importance as part of the total picture and can help guide you to the resources that best suit your needs.
One common concern as women approach menopause is increased levels of depression because of changing hormone levels. The 2018 guidelines for perimenopausal depression, published in the NAMS journal, Menopause, state that perimenopause is a time when women are vulnerable to developing depressive symptoms and major depressive episodes. The risk of depressive symptoms is elevated during perimenopause even in women with no history of major depressive disorder.
Naidoo suggests seeking a provider who approaches your care with an understanding of just how important mental health is in this time of your life.
6. Do you have experience working with people who've experienced trauma?
For some, medical exams can feel invasive. Intimate body parts are examined and sensitive questions are asked at many visits, depending on the specialty. This can be particularly uncomfortable—and even painful—for women who have a history of sexual assault, abuse, or medical trauma.
“It’s important to find a provider who is sensitive to those matters,” Fosnight says. Medical exams could potentially be triggering, and it’s important a provider understands this.
7. May I contact you outside of office visits?
Symptoms of menopause are unpredictable and can arise at any time, so in order to get care when you need it, look for a doctor’s office that provides options for telehealth or virtual communication, like emails or secure portal messages.
“As this can be a time of life characterized by uncertainty and anxiety for many women, this level of support can improve the patient experience and reduce the potential impact on mental health,” Naidoo says.
You May Also Like:
- The Secret to Midlife Happiness May Surprise You
- 6 Women Share What They Enjoy Most About Life After Menopause
- Menopause Basics: What You Should Know Before It Starts
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