An appointment with your physician is an opportunity to raise questions and gather information that can help you better manage any diseases or chronic conditions you live with and learn what steps you can take to protect and improve your health. Unfortunately, doctor’s visits can be rushed or you could be distracted by concerns about a health problem, so you don’t always get that important information. To make sure you’re keeping the lines of communication open with your physician, learn what questions to ask and what information you should provide.
The basics of good doctor-patient communication
Your relationship with your physician should be a partnership and the foundation of any good partnership is communication. Here’s what you need to do to build that partnership and get the information you need.
Be honest. Very personal questions are one of the important tools your doctor uses to make a diagnosis and recommend strategies to lower your risk of disease. The doctor’s office isn’t the place to be shy or shade the truth. Your physician needs accurate answers to all of his or her questions, including those about sexual history, alcohol consumption, recreational drug use, smoking, diet and exercise. If you say you only drink one beer a week when the truth is closer to two beers a night, that incorrect information can affect your doctor’s understanding of your risk factors.
Give your physician a complete picture of your health. If you’ve recently switched primary care physicians or receive care from more than one physician, make sure that all the doctors who are treating you know your complete medical history and have access to all your medical records. Your physicians need to know about any illnesses, surgeries or hospitalizations in your past, as well as all medications and supplements you take. If you’ve travelled recently, it’s also valuable to share that information. For example, if you’ve recently travelled in areas populated by the ticks who carry Lyme disease, knowing about that potential exposure can help your physician make a diagnosis.
Make sure you understand what your doctor tells you. Does it seem like you and your physician don’t speak the same language? When your physician tells you that you have benign hypertension, does that mean you’ve got a clean bill of health? It’s important that you take the time to ask questions about any diagnoses, test results, prescriptions and treatment plans and get clarification in language you understand. Always ask your physician what the next steps should be at the end of your appointment. Do you need to schedule blood tests or other diagnostic procedures? When will you get the results of any tests? Should you schedule a follow-up visit?
Don’t just talk, listen. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the information your physician provides during an appointment, especially if your physician tells you that you have a serious health problem like diabetes or lung disease. To make sure you don’t miss any important information, you can take notes or bring a friend, family member or health advisor with you to write down what the doctor says. Find out if your physician answers questions by email in case you forget or don’t understand something you heard during your appointment.
By communicating honestly and openly, you’re helping to ensure that your physician has the background he or she needs to provide you with the most appropriate care and advice.