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Communicating with Your Doctors for Productive Medical Visits

Doctor and patient

By Lisa M. Petscheco

These days, healthcare is viewed as a partnership between patient and provider, with both parties responsible for ensuring a constructive relationship. Good communication is essential, of course, to any positive doctor-patient relationship, whether it involves your primary physician or a specialist.

Here are some ways to do your part to make the most of medical visits.

Before an appointment
  • Make a list of things you want to discuss, in order of priority. Also jot down any symptoms you’re experiencing, including their frequency, duration and intensity, and how they’re affecting your daily life.
  • Note, too, any treatments you’ve tried. Bring a list of the medications you’re taking, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as any natural remedies, including the dosage.
  • Bring along a note pad and pen to jot down key information.
  • Consider asking a friend or relative to accompany you; that individual can help with processing information and remembering instructions. They may also have questions that hadn’t occurred to you.
During the visit
  • If you have a hearing or vision impairment, let the doctor know at the outset. If you have language impairment from a stroke or other condition that makes it hard for others to understand you, bring along someone who knows you well and can interpret your responses as needed.
  • Provide as much detail as possible about any problems you’re experiencing and how these are affecting you. Don’t leave out anything. Let the doctor decide what’s relevant.
  • Be honest about your lifestyle and habits—for example, if you’re sedentary, don’t follow a recommended diet, or haven’t been taking medications as prescribed.
  • Let the doctor know about anything going on in your life that may be contributing to your situation—for example, a recent loss or other event that’s causing significant stress.
  • Write down important information provided to you. If you have brought someone along, ask them to do this so you can give the doctor your undivided attention.
  • Ask for details. If you’re diagnosed with a medical condition, inquire about what to expect, including treatment or management options, and where you can get more information. For any recommended test or treatment, inquire about what’s involved, benefits and risks, and alternatives.
    Request clarification if the doctor uses terms you don’t understand. Summarize the information they give you, to check if you’ve interpreted it correctly.
  • Don’t try to be an expert. While there’s a wealth of medical information readily available to consumers these days—especially via the Internet—and it’s good to be informed, don’t act as if you know more than the doctor does. Be respectful if you wish to challenge findings or recommendations. For example, it’s better to say, “I’ve read about a new medication called X; what do you think of it for my situation?” rather than, “Why aren’t you prescribing X?”
  • Don’t hesitate to voice doubts, worries, or fears. If, after your doctor addresses them, you’re still uncomfortable with a diagnosis or the treatment options presented to you, request a second opinion.
  • Don’t worry about taking up too much of your doctor’s time. Ask all of your questions and express any concerns. However, lower priority issues may have to wait for another appointment. Do be concise and don’t stray off-topic.
  • Before leaving, make sure you’re clear about any next steps—for example, whether you should schedule another appointment, when and how you’ll learn of test results, and what you should do if your condition worsens or you experience an adverse reaction to a new medication.
  • Do call the office if more questions occur to you later.

Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and freelance writer specializing in boomer and senior health and wellness.

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