Doctors can be hard to talk to. They might use medical terms that confuse or intimidate you. Or they might rush through your appointment, leaving you with feelings of frustration and a list of unanswered questions.
Many doctors lack good communications skills. But your doctor could be the most important person you ever talk to. You owe it to your health to establish and maintain good lines of communication. Here are some ways to start:
- Do your homework. Improve the chances of having all your questions answered by writing them down before your visit. Doing so will help you remember and will save time, which the doctor will appreciate. Researching your condition and treatment options can trigger questions and make you familiar with some of the medical terms your doctor might use. Ask your doctor to explain anything you don’t understand.
If you are seeing a doctor for the first time, bring your medical records or have your previous doctor forward them in advance. Reviewing your medical history will help your doctor know which questions to ask you during the visit.
- Share information. Tell your doctor about all of your symptoms, the health conditions you have or had, what medications you take and whether you are seeing another health professional. This way, your doctor can coordinate care and avoid prescribing anything that could be harmful or counteract another drug. You can write this information down ahead of time, so you don’t leave anything out. The more information you provide your doctor, the better.
- Bring someone along. If you think you might be nervous or might not understand what the doctor is telling you, or if you just need moral support, bring a friend or family member. Someone you trust can help you relax and feel more comfortable, remind you of concerns you might have forgotten and help you recall afterward what the doctor said.
- Be honest. Mention that you might seek a second opinion if you have questions or concerns about your diagnosis or treatment. Don’t worry about offending the doctor. It’s important to be honest about your reservations and concerns.
Remember that communication is a two-way street — expect your doctor to be prepared to meet with you and share information as well. Things you should look for from a doctor who communicates effectively with patients, according to the Center for the Study of Services in Washington, DC, include:
- listens, doesn’t interrupt and makes you feel comfortable about asking questions
- checks your progress, discusses test results and follows up with other doctors you have seen
- spends enough time with you
- takes a thorough medical history
- explains what’s wrong, what’s being done and why, and what you can expect
If you are not happy with the way your doctor and you communicate, despite your best efforts — find another doctor. Your health depends on it.