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12 Tips for Improving Communication With Your Doctor

Improving Communication Will Improve Your Care

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Updated April 02, 2009

The importance of having good communication with your doctor is often emphasized. But it doesn't always come easy -- you may have to work at it. It actually takes a conscious effort. Don't wait for that effort to come from your doctor -- it's your responsibility too. Here are a dozen tips for improving communication with your doctor.

As you work your way through these tips, think about how each will help you understand your doctor, help your doctor understand you -- and ultimately promote the feeling that you are on the same team.

A Dozen Tips for Improving Communication

1 -- Be prepared for your doctor visit. Prepare a list of questions that are relevant, specific, brief, and prioritized. Don't think for a minute you can wing it without having this list. You will forget something and want to kick yourself. Having a list, with the most important question first, allows your doctor visit to flow nicely and for you to cover all of your concerns.

2 -- Don't just listen. Take notes and jot down important things the doctor has to say. Some patients even ask for permission to tape record the doctor visit. Whatever works so you will have the ability to review the information later -- after you have gone home or days later for that matter.

3 -- Don't be shy. If your doctor uses a word or medical term you don't understand, ask for an explanation. Don't let the point get passed you. Politely stop your doctor and ask for clarification. Repeat it back to the doctor in your words to be sure you understand. If you let it go, you likely won't come back to it. Ask at the very moment you don't understand.

4 -- Talk symptoms, not theories. Especially, in this new age of cyberchondria, you likely want to explain to your doctor what you think is wrong. Keep it simple. Talk about your symptoms -- what you are feeling, experiencing, for how long. Don't forget you are there to get your doctor's expert opinion. If your theory is off-track, you risk derailing the whole appointment.

5 -- Be honest. When describing your symptoms, problems, and concerns with your doctor, don't be selective about the details -- tell everything that is relevant. Some patients leave things out because they fear the outcome that may come with full disclosure -- you may be sent for a test or be prescribed a new pill! Be fair to your doctor -- he can only do a good job for you if given good information to work with.

6 -- Be open to your doctor's advice. Don't forget why you are at your doctor's office in the first place. You want your doctor's opinion or recommendation, remember? Listen to the advice, discuss your concerns, and make every effort to be compliant.

7 -- Understand your goals. You are less likely to be compliant if you don't understand your goals. If you are prescribed a medication or referred to a specialist, you must understand why the recommendation is being made. It's simple what you should do -- ask your doctor.

8 -- Ask for a diagram or illustration. If you don't understand, after asking for further explanation, the next step is to request an illustration. Some people need visuals before everything makes sense.

9 -- Respect the time. You should slow down the conversation between you and your doctor if you feel it's moving too fast. Politely ask you doctor to slow down because you need to understand. Keep off-topic conversations to a minimum. Remember, your doctor has more patients waiting to see him.

10 -- Review your medication list and needed refills. At each doctor visit go over your medications and refills. It will help all parties involved stay on the same page. And, it eliminates the need for you to re-contact your doctor solely to get a refill.

11 -- Summarize before leaving the office. Quickly re-state everything that was covered during the appointment. It's your opportunity to be sure you are clear about everything.

12 -- Thank your doctor. Express gratitude for your doctor's expertise and compassion. Even though your doctor works for you technically, be appreciative.

There is one last tip -- let's call it a bonus tip. If you know ahead of time that you have many questions for your doctor and that it will likely be a long visit -- call up and book it ahead of time. Let your doctor's staff know you will need extra time. Don't just spring it on them when you show up. They will appreciate your effort not to delay your doctor's schedule.

A healthy and positive doctor-patient relationship is based on mutual respect, mutual understanding, and consideration.

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