How Patients Can Communicate Better With Doctors
When your doctor communicates well, you are more likely to feel that he or she is well informed and caring. You can also better understand your diagnosis, treatment, and how to care for yourself at home. Your doctor’s clear and honest communication can help you stay healthy, or if you are sick, get better faster.
Research suggests that patients who take an active role in the doctor-patient relationship by asking questions, stating their symptoms clearly, and interrupting when necessary, have better outcomes.
Below are questions you can answer about experiences with your doctor. There also are lists of ways that patients can help make care better.
Does your doctor explain things in ways that are easy to understand?
Here are some ways that you can help your doctor better explain things to you:
- State your symptoms clearly. Tell your doctor when this symptom or health problem started, what it feels like, and how long it lasts.
- Ask the doctor about your diagnosis (what is wrong) and treatment (what you should do). Make sure you understand the doctor’s answer. Repeat back key points about what the doctor said. Ask again, or even interrupt, if you are confused about what the doctor says.
- Talk about treatment choices. There are many times when your doctor should ask you to make choices about what kind of treatment, tests, medicine, or surgery to have. Talk about these together. Ask about risks (what can go wrong) and benefits (how this can help). Also discuss your beliefs, values, and other issues that may affect your choices.
- Write notes while meeting with the doctor. Notes can remind you later about what the doctor said.
- At the end of each doctor’s visit, ask for a printed summary of your diagnosis, medication, and follow-up plan (what you need to do later on).
- If you want, ask a family member or friend to go to appointments with you. He or she can help by asking questions, taking notes, and talking with you about what the doctor said.
- Ask how to learn more. This could be by meeting with someone, reading an article, or going to certain websites.
How often does your doctor listen carefully to you?
Doctors should communicate with patients in ways that are clear, honest, and easy to understand. Studies show that this type of communication can help patients stay healthy or if sick, get better faster.
Here are some ways you can help your doctor listen better to what you have to say:
- Speak up if you want the doctor to make eye contact. This means looking at you rather than at a computer or someone else in the room. Tell the doctor if you prefer that he or she sits when talking with you.
- Ask the doctor to repeat back what you just said. That helps to make sure that the doctor clearly understood you.
- When you are at home, call the doctor’s office if you have any questions or concerns. You might ask to meet with the doctor again, either in person or by phone. Find out if you should instead speak with a nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, or someone else in the doctors’ office.
How often does your doctor show respect for what you say?
Good communication means that doctors explain things clearly, listen carefully, and show respect.
Here are some things you can do to help your doctor better understand and respect you:
- Tell the doctor about topics that matter most to you. For instance, speak up if your doctor is talking about the benefits of a certain treatment but you want to know more about pain or other side effects.
- Say something if you think the doctor is not listening or being respectful. For instance, tell the doctor, “I think you’re not hearing what I’m saying.”
How often does your doctor spend enough time with you?
Even though doctors are very busy, there are many reasons not to rush when meeting with patients. Studies show that when doctors spend more time with patients, they tend to write fewer prescriptions. When not rushed, doctors also have more time to talk with patients about ways to stay healthy and prevent or detect diseases.
Here are some actions you can take to help your doctor spend enough time with you:
- When you call to make an appointment, tell the office staff if this is for a new health concern. The staff may be able to add extra time to your appointment.
- Before you meet with the doctor, make a list of questions and concerns to discuss. Put the most important items at the top. Bring this list to your appointment and refer to it while talking with the doctor.
- Ask if there is someone else in the doctors’ office you can talk with about less urgent questions and concerns.
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