Whether you are getting a regular checkup or treatment for a serious illness, the best doctor-patient experience requires effective communication. As health care appointments continue to feel shorter and more rushed, it is important to communicate freely and clearly to receive the best care possible in the time available. Often, however, patients do not feel comfortable speaking with health care providers or do not know what to ask and know how to ask it. Here, we present some tips on how to communicate effectively with your health care providers.
Your correct diagnosis or treatment may depend on the quality of the information you can share with your doctor about what you have been experiencing.
Keep notes of your symptoms, like unusual body changes or reactions. Be specific about the start dates, lengths of time, and changes in intensity of any symptoms. Keep an up-to-date list of the current prescription or over-the-counter medications you take. Be sure to include any complementary or alternative medicines and supplements you use, such as herbs, vitamins, and homeopathic remedies. These might contribute to your symptoms or interfere with any prescribed medications.
Maintain your own medical history (past symptoms or diagnoses, major surgeries, and current conditions), and make notes of your general family medical history (for example, knowing that conditions such as high blood pressure, cancer, or diabetes run in your family). Bring these lists with you to your appointments to share with your doctor, particularly if it is a first visit.
Consider yourself an active member of your health care team rather than a passive patient. Learn about your health concerns and illnesses. Try to gather all the information you need to make informed decisions about your health.
Another way to be active and prepared is to write down any questions or concerns you have. List or mark them in order of importance. Refer to the list during the appointment to avoid forgetting to ask something. Do not be afraid to ask these questions or any other questions that may arise. Your health care providers want you to understand any conditions you may have and any proposed treatments.
If you do not understand a concept or procedure completely, ask your doctor to clarify. Perhaps he or she needs to use less technical language. It is important that you have an understanding of your care that is satisfactory to you.
In your own words, repeat back what your doctor explains to you to make sure you understand. This is a great opportunity to confirm what you know and get clarification on what you don’t fully grasp.
Share other communication needs
Let your doctor know if you have vision or hearing problems so that he or she can tailor communication to your needs. For example, you may need your doctor to face in a specific direction when speaking to you or provide informational material published in large print or in a different language.
Bring additional support
You might want to bring a family member or friend to accompany you on doctor’s appointments. This person can take notes for you, be an additional listener, remember information you might forget, and provide support.
Get to know your care team
Familiarize yourself with your care team or the doctor’s office staff. The nurses and physician assistants are knowledgeable and important members of your health care team who can provide basic information and guidance about your care. Ask about who, besides your main doctor, can answer additional questions and how members of your health care team may be reached by phone or email.
Building your doctor-patient relationship may be a gradual process, but it is an important one. Providing accurate information and making sure you understand your doctor’s instructions and advice can help you get the best care possible. Knowing your care team, bringing support, being prepared, and asking questions all can help you get the most out of your time with your health care team.
— U. Arizor
For more information, talk to your physician; visit MD Anderson’s iCare site, www.nih.gov/clearcommunication/talktoyourdoctor.htm, or www.patient-pilot.com; or call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789.
OncoLog, May 2015, Volume 60, Issue 5