According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), patients who have good relationships with their doctors tend to be more satisfied with their care and have better results. Talking with your doctor isn’t always easy. There can be many challenges to open communication. Time with your doctor is limited and preparing for your visit, writing down your questions, and speaking openly with your doctor will help you get the best care.
What are some common communication challenges?
- We may’not fully understand what the doctor is saying
- We may have questions, but do not feel comfortable asking
- We may feel embarrassed to share personal information
- We may find it hard to ask for help
- We may find it hard to build trust with a doctor, especially when the time is short
- Our culture and/or language may be different from the doctor
Many of these challenges can be managed by using the tips below to prepare for your visit.
What essential information and materials should I bring to my visit?
- Insurance cards
- Pharmacy name and phone number
- A list of any medical issues you have, symptoms, or changes since your last visit including: falls, broken bones, problems with vision or hearing, along with other medical issues (include only your top five concerns because time is limited and you want to get to the ones most important to you)
- A list of your medicines, supplements, vitamins, and herbs, including dose, number of pills, and when you take them. Bring the bottles with you if easier.
- A list of other treatments, such as massage or acupuncture, etc.
- A written list of your questions and concerns- the three most important questions are:
- What is my main problem?
- What do I need to do?
- Why is this important for me to do? https://www.ihs.gov/healthcommunications/documents/AskMe_8-pg_NatAmer.pdf
At the visit, share important information about your daily life. Changes or issues may affect your health and treatment choices; make sure to tell your doctor about:
- Habits: eating, smoking, drinking, and substance use
- Changes: mood, sleep, appetite, memory, sexual or work history
- Recent loses: such as a spouse, partner, family, friends
- Culture: preferred language, beliefs, rituals and practices
Other tips for the visit:
- If possible, bring a friend or family member for support. Another listening ear can be helpful.
- If you prefer to communicate in the language in which you are most comfortable, request an interpreter for the visit.
- Time is limited with your doctor and there is a lot to cover. Prioritize your questions and concerns and ask your most important questions at the beginning of your visit.
- Some examples are: what is my diagnosis and what does it mean? Is there any testing needed? How will this medicine help me and what side effects should I know about? What other treatments are available?
- Ask about resources available. Where can I get more information? Where can I get support with my condition?
- Make sure to ask if you don’t understand a medical word or the instructions your doctor gives you.
Ask for written instructions and information to take home.
Good communication will help you get the most from your doctor’s visit and help you be a partner in your healthcare. Remember that the doctor patient connection is an on-going relationship that may take some time and work to develop. Making your concerns known is the first step to helping your doctor know what is important to you.
Juliette Kleinman is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialty in geriatrics and is the manager of the VOICES 60+ Senior Advocacy Program at Hospital for Special Surgery.
Visit VOICES 60+ Senior Advocacy Program at https://hss.edu/voices60.asp
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