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Tips for Talking with Your Doctor

doctor speaking with patient

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 is not 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 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 information and materials should I bring to my visit?

  • Insurance cards
  • Pharmacy name and phone number
  • A list  of medical issues, symptoms or changes you may  have since your last visit including: falls, broken bones, problems with vision or hearing, etc. (include only your top five concerns because time can be 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. Ask your pharmacist to print you a list or bring the bottles with you if easier.
  • A list other treatments, such as massage or acupuncture, etc.
  • Make a written list of your questions and concerns in advance of your visit
  • The three most important questions to ask are:
    1. What is my main problem?
    2. What do I need to do?
    3. Why is this important for me to do?
  • Bring extra paper and pen/pencil to take notes

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?
    • Are there tests needed?
    • How will this medicine help me?
    • 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 do not 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 time to develop. Making your concerns known is a first step in helping your doctor know what is most important to you.

Juliette Kleinman is a licensed clinical social worker and the senior social work manager, Rheumatology and has oversight of the VOICES 60+ Senior Advocacy Program at Hospital for Special Surgery.

Visit the Department of Social Work Programs https://www.hss.edu/social-work-programs.asp and VOICES 60+ Senior Advocacy Program at https://www.hss.edu/voices60.asp

See articles of interest :


Last Updated: March 3rd, 2018

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.