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Published Jun. 7, 2010

Quick quiz: If your doctor said you had a problem that might require surgery, would you:

- Call your boss, the dog sitter and check in to the hospital?

- Thank her politely, go home and pull down the shades?

- Get a second medical opinion, a third, and maybe a fourth? Hunt around on the Internet?

- None of the above.

- All of the above.

Whichever option you pick, you've got company. There's nothing easy about facing medical decisions.

I spent an enlightening day last week at the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, which is devoted to helping consumers navigate their choices. With the American Society of News Editors, the Boston foundation hosted a small group of journalists from across the country to talk about how the media can make the benefits and drawbacks of medical procedures, devices and drugs more clear to our audiences.

We picked up lots of great information and met smart doctors willing to help us to do our work better.

Dr. Michael J. Barry, the foundation president (who still sees patients, by the way), shared a study done at the University of Michigan about how patients participate in their own care decisions. Most patients in the survey said they were asked for their opinions less than one-fifth of the time about getting a cancer screening. Before being prescribed medications to treat blood pressure, cholesterol or depression, just one-third said their views were sought. For orthopedic surgeries (back, knee/hip replacement) patient input was asked for about half the time.

And most patients didn't have basic facts needed to understand what was being recommended in each case, the study found.

Check out the foundation's website,, to learn how it is working to inform consumers and to see how several patients have made difficult choices.

On a related theme, I'd like to introduce Dr. David B. Brecher, a palliative care specialist in Palm Harbor, whose column on one of the most important medical decisions you can make appears on Page 7.

If you believe (as I once did) that advance directives - which express your health care wishes when you can't speak for yourself - are just for the elderly or the terminally ill, think again.

This is a great opportunity to do your research, weigh the evidence, search your soul, talk to your family and take a stand.

Preparing an advance directive is what all adults should do - and update as life changes. As with any health care choice, who better to decide than you?