by: Eldridge Stimmel
We’ve all been there. You fight the crowds on the roads or sidewalks to get to your doctor’s appointment and spend far too long in the waiting and exam rooms. Then your doctor rushes in, listens to your lungs, tosses a few prescriptions your way, and bids you a curt farewell. By the time you get home, you realize you didn’t get to ask about half (or more) of the things on your mind.
So, how do you make sure to not only share all of your concerns with your doctor but ensure he or she addresses them?
It’s all about communication, and it’s easier than you think! Just like planning a big meal or anticipating that job interview, you do a little prep work first.
In the article, Talking to Your Doctor, the National Institutes of Health recommend writing down a list of issues you want to address.
- Make a list of everything you want to discuss with your doctor. Go so far as to start the list with something like, “Today I’d like to talk about. . .”
- Make a copy so that you and your medical team each have one. Give it to the nurse or nurse’s aide (the person who does the things like take your blood pressure). Say something like, “I always forget what I want to talk about and leave with a ton of questions, so I made a list.” Believe it or not, it makes the doctor’s job easier to do right and to do well.
- Share your issues with the nurse or nurse’s aide first. These front-line medical professionals are the eyes, ears, and screeners for the doctor. They fill much the same role as personal assistants to celebrities and CEOs.
Don’t forget to bring a pencil or pen, or have your list ready on your phone to check off items as you discuss them. Rehearse what you want to talk about in your head a few times to avoid getting sidetracked when your limited time with the doctor comes.
When talking to your doctor, use language that appeals to the desire to help that lead him or her into the profession in the first place. Say things like:
- I need your help making this pain stop before it drives me nuts.
- I need your help managing my arthritis (or other condition) so I can walk in the park again.
These kinds of statements give the doctor a solid goal. They let him or her know that helping you will not only improve this complaint but improve your quality of life. And who doesn’t like feeling like a hero every now then?
- Instead of, “My stomach hurts,” describe the pain. Say something like, “My lower abdomen feels like it’s on fire.” Wave your hand over the affected area to help paint the picture.
Include any causes or symptoms you think might go with the issue:
- “I put a couple of drops of pepper sauce on my food three days ago. Ever since, I’ve had diarrhea and a bonfire in my stomach.” Here, it’s not just the pepper sauce but that the problem hasn’t cleared up in three days. Together, this may signal anything from a sensitivity or an allergy to more serious stomach issues.
Never, never, never be afraid to ask questions or request clarification. Most of us wouldn’t order a plate of food we knew nothing about without asking some questions. Don’t blindly accept everything from your doctor, either. Good questions include:
- How does this medication work, and how quickly?
- Will it cure my illness, or does it only alleviate the symptoms?
- Can I expect side effects?
- What can I do besides taking the medicine to aid in my recovery?
And don’t be afraid to share your limitations with the doctor. That thousand-dollar-a-month medicine may cure your ills, but you can’t take it if you can’t afford it.
- Ask if the medicine is expensive, or look it up on your phone. If you don’t have that capability, most doctor’s offices will look on the web for you.
- Ask for cheaper alternatives that work just as well, or that do the job and fit into your budget. If it concerns you, ask if the less-expensive treatment is better than no treatment at all.
- And, as in the bullet points above, ask what you can do to maximize the speed and effectiveness of the treatment. For example, maybe a five-minute walk every other day will ultimately make those bad knees feel better than anti-inflammatories alone.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may just to need to find another doctor. Some signs of the need for change include:
- Irritation at or an unwillingness to answer questions
- A lack of trust or faith in the physician
- Unqualified statements like, “I can’t. . .” Some things just don’t have a cure, but a good doctor will explain that, along with what can be done.
- Statements like, “I don’t know what you want me to do.” Perhaps the doctor has done all he or she knows to do and feels frustrated by the inability to help. But even putting the best face on this situation, this signals that the doctor has given up. At worst, the doctor just doesn’t care.
Most importantly, remember that doctors are people, too. And like everyone else, doctors appreciate being appreciated.
In its web article, Communicating with Your Doctor, University of California, San Francisco, Health reminds us to be understanding. Along with sharing any dissatisfaction, let the doctor know you appreciate the help and attention given to your problems. Share the successes that the treatment has allowed.
And always remember, if you wouldn’t like being talked to a certain way, it’s a good bet that no one else, including your doctor, will either.
Talking to Your Doctor, National Institutes of Health, Dec. 10, 2018
Communicating with Your Doctor, UCSF Health, undated