Thinking through your options when a treatment has been delayed

a profile photo of Dr Helen Hartley
Medical Director, Healthcare Management, Bupa Insurance
16 June 2020
Next review due June 2023

It can be frustrating if you’ve had an operation or treatment delayed. However, you might find you can put the additional time to good use by becoming better informed about your condition and the treatment options available.

Changing your mind

It might be that circumstances were different when you first decided on a treatment. Or maybe you didn’t have as much time as you’d have liked to fully consider all your options. Perhaps you’re starting to feel uncertain, or you have questions now that you’ve had more time to reflect on your decision.

What’s important is to realise that it’s never too late to change your mind. Even if you’ve already given your consent to have a treatment or operation, you’re entitled to withdraw your consent at any time. Your doctor, or a member of their team, should always check that you’re still happy to go ahead on the day of your treatment. This is particularly important when there’s been a long delay. Of course, it’s in everyone’s interests to come to a decision that you’re happy with well before this. If you’ve changed your mind or started having doubts, contact your doctor as soon as possible to talk it through with them.

Making a decision

When it comes to making decisions about your healthcare, it’s always best to do this in partnership with your doctor or clinician. This is known as shared decision making. It means that you and your health professional work together to decide on the best way forward for your particular circumstances. Your health professional can let you know which options are available, including their risks and benefits. Then they can explore your personal values and preferences and support you in coming to an informed decision that’s best for you.

Apart from certain circumstances when it may not be possible – like an emergency situation – you should always have a say in what care you receive. But shared decision is particularly helpful when you have lots of treatment options, without one being clearly better than another. In that case, the decision ultimately comes down to your own personal preference.

Examples might include:

There’s evidence to suggest that people who are informed and take an active role in their treatment decisions have better results than those who don’t. It’s also been shown that if you’re more informed about your healthcare options, you’re more likely to choose less invasive treatments – for example, choosing to make lifestyle changes instead of having surgery.

Things to think about

So, what can you do now, if you have time on your hands? Try to do as much research into your condition as possible, and find out about your potential treatment options. Do you know what alternatives there are? Or what happens if you don’t have treatment? Your healthcare team should have already provided you with information; but if you’re looking for your own, it’s important to read high-quality health information that’s created by trusted organisations and relevant charities.

Think about the following questions, and if they’re relevant to your situation, make sure you know the answers or can find them. If you can’t, it’s worth asking your doctor when you’re next able to talk to them.

  • Is the suggested operation/treatment necessary? Why is that?
  • What are the risks if I don’t do anything for the time being?
  • Can making lifestyle changes improve my condition or help me achieve a better outcome from the proposed treatment?
  • What are the risks and benefits of the treatment, and how do these apply to me? What’s the chance of these risks or complications happening?
  • Are any other treatments and operations available – how do the risks and benefits for these options compare?
  • If I decide to have surgery, what are my options for anaesthesia, and what’s the best one for me?
  • How long will I need to stay in hospital, and how long will it take to fully recover? What can I do before and afterwards to maximise my chances of a good recovery?
  • What can I expect in the long-term after having this treatment/procedure? Will I need any further treatment? What can I do to maintain or improve my health afterwards?

The best choice for you

Remember, the choice you make will be individual to you. What’s right for you might be completely different to someone else in the same position. Not only will your circumstances be different, but we all view things differently and have a different perception of risk. What might seem like a tiny risk to one person can be unacceptable to another.

You’ll need to weigh up the benefits and risks of your treatment options and think about what matters most to you. You may feel able to cope with potential side-effects or complications, whereas someone else may find these too tough to live with. You might decide you’re not willing to have a treatment or surgery that takes up a lot of time or has a long recovery period, while another person may decide it’s worth it if the outcome is good. You’ll need to think about the stage of life you’re at too. Does your operation have an impact on how active you can be or whether you’ll be able to have children? Will you be able to continue with your work and interests, for example, sport?

Finally, always ask your healthcare team if you need more time or support in making a decision. Remember, they’re there to help you make the right choice for you.

a profile photo of Dr Helen Hartley
Dr Helen Hartley
Medical Director, Healthcare Management, Bupa Insurance

    • Consent: patients and doctors making decisions together. General Medical Council, published 2 June 2008
    • Shared decision making. BMJ Best Practice., accessed 6 June 2020
    • Coulter A, and Collins A. Making shared decision-making a reality. The King's Fund., published 2011
    • Weighing up risks and benefits. BMJ Best Practice., accessed 6 June 2020

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