If you want to receive appropriate medical care and learn how to follow through on your doctor’s recommendations, clear communications are essential. However, that’s easier said than done.
The typical office visit is growing shorter. Your doctor will probably see you for 15 minutes or less, and electronic records are replacing some of the discussion that used to occur face to face. On top of that, there may be strong emotions and embarrassment that go along with any disturbing symptoms.
As a patient, you can learn to talk with your doctor more effectively. Try these suggestions for choosing a physician you’ll feel comfortable with, and communicating with them.
Choosing Your Doctor
1. Check social media. Take a look at your doctor’s Twitter feed or Facebook page for a preview that may suggest their personality and approach. Many health professionals use social media to educate their patients and answer common questions.
2. Evaluate online ratings. Internet services are now rating pediatricians as well as restaurants, and the criteria usually includes being friendly and easy to talk with. Just remember that these are opinions rather than facts. You may want to consult additional sources like referrals from friends and other health care providers.
3. Focus on the team. Pay attention to how your doctor interacts with colleagues as well as you. Some studies suggest that up to 80% of serious medical errors are caused by miscommunications between caregivers.
4. Take action. Most of all look for a physician who encourages your engagement. Do they speak with you respectfully and value your input?
Communicating with Your Doctor
1. Set priorities. Given how short doctor visits are today, ensure you squeeze in the main issues before you leave. Focus on your back pain instead of trying to deal with a whole laundry list of experiences.
2. Volunteer information. Your doctor may be as hesitant as you to bring up sensitive subjects like losing weight or quitting smoking. Share any details that could be relevant to receiving the treatment you need.
3. Ask questions. More than 65% of medical schools now teach communications, but some practitioners still tend to speak in lectures. Asking questions creates a discussion and clarifies your concerns.
4. Sum it up. Restating what your doctor said is an effective way to show whether you really understood each other. Try giving a quick recap before you walk out the door.
5. Start a journal. Keeping a journal can help you to think straight when you’re dealing with complicated medical information and strong emotions. Write down your symptoms and any events you want to talk about.
6. Take notes. Jot down what your doctor tells you. Use a notepad or your phone. Some practitioners may even let you record the sessions.
7. Accept uncertainty. Encourage your doctor to be candid by letting them know that you can handle the truth. You may be able to avoid unnecessary tests and prescriptions that are unlikely to provide clear cut answers or significant relief.
8. Discuss risks. Most procedures have risks as well as benefits. Be polite but firm about needing to hear the full picture.
9. Bring support. If you’re nervous about going to the doctor’s office alone, take along someone you trust like your spouse or a friend. Patient advocates can also facilitate discussions between you and your doctor. Your employer may have an employee assistance program or you can contact groups like the American Cancer Society.
Skillful communications can turn you into an engaged patient who makes sound health decisions for you and your family. When you’re knowledgeable, assertive, and courteous, you help your doctor to provide you with the best quality care possible.