How to talk to your doctor

I was overwhelmed (in a good way) with the response I got to last week’s Empowering the Patient post. If you are interested in this (and I really think we all should take an interest in the topic) please take the time to read the insightful comments from readers. Thank you to those who shared their experiences and their own advice for handling doctor/patient communication. Marcia’s comment is representative of the many wonderful comments”One idea I’ve found helpful…I often say all of the above to the nurse while my vitals are taken. Sometimes that prompts a reminder from nurse to doc – and sometimes they know your file better than doc and can point out info.”

I very grateful to Abigail who took the time to put across the doctor’s point of view. She taught me a valuable lesson in judgement. “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle”.

So the conclusion we can reach is that the doctor/patient relationship is a two-way street and both the patient and the doctor share equal responsibility in making sure they understand each other. Poor communication has persistently been shown to be a leading cause of patient complaints against doctors. Here is a check-list of things which may help you at your next doctor’s appointment. If you can think of any others please let us know.

Write down what you want to discuss at your appointment.  It is frustrating to leave the doctor’s office and only then remember something you wanted to mention.

Be specific. Be prepared to pinpoint exactly where your ache or pain occurs, how severe it is on a scale of 1 to 10, when it occurs and how often, and what makes it better or worse.

Ask questions. If your doctor suggests a new medication, why is it recommended? If (s)he advises a procedure, ask for all the information about it you can. 

Don’t lie. Under certain circumstances and for a variety of reasons, patients can be afraid to tell the truth. One of the most common lies concerns the number of alcohol units which the patient drinks or number of cigarettes smoked. Some researchers estimate that as many as half of all patients tell their doctor they’re taking their medication as prescribed, when in fact they’re not.

Insist on understanding. Can you guess how often doctors ask their patients whether they understand what’s being discussed? Less than 2 percent of the time. Don’t be afraid to interrupt and say, “I’m confused—can you explain that in layman’s terms?” If it helps to take notes or tape-record the conversation, do so. One study showed that after the visit was over, on average, older patients forgot more than 75 percent of what their doctor had said.