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10 Tips for Talking With Your Doctor

March 10, 2017
4 minutes

Taking an active role in your health care can help you get the best care possible from your doctor – and the best way to help your doctor help you is to make sure that he or she is aware of your current health concerns, lifestyle, family history, and health related questions.

When it comes to talking with your doctor, it’s important to know that nothing is “off limits”. Many people hold back important information from their healthcare providers out of fear of being judged or embarrassed, but doing so only makes it harder for your doctor to do his or her job. In some cases, failure to disclose information to your doctor can have serious consequences for your health.

Remember, your doctor has “heard and seen it all” and is not going to be shocked or repelled by anything you have to say – and furthermore, he or she is prohibited by law and by professional ethics from disclosing your confidential health information. In cases where you find you’re having trouble getting over your embarrassment, or if you have something to discuss that causes you to be emotional, it can help to practice your “presentation” in advance, or to write out something ahead of time that you can hand over to your physician during your visit.

Besides open and honest disclosure, here are some other tips that can help you have good communication with your physician:

Share symptoms.
Even if you feel fine, it’s still important for you to let your doctor know if you’re having any symptoms that are new, or are “bigger” than they used to be. This includes any side effects from prescribed medications.

Provide your health history.
You can create a health journal for yourself on paper or in a notebook, and bring it to your appointments. Be sure and include your family health history as well.

Talk about your lifestyle.
Your doctor needs to know what is going on in your life, such as whether or not you’re sexually active, smoke, drink, don’t eat meat, exercise, have a stressful job, are getting ready to move, dealing with loss, thinking about having a baby, about to get married, or having trouble sleeping.

Let your doctor know what you’re taking.
This includes medication prescribed by another physician, vitamins, supplements, or over-the-counter medications.

Ask questions.
If you don’t understand something your doctor has told you, speak up. Also, don’t be afraid to ask “should I be worried about” types of questions

Ask your doctor for advice.
If your physician has suggested that you take a particular action, like a change to your diet, and you’re not sure how to go about it, ask he or she if they have any suggestions. You might also want to ask if your physician has any suggestions about websites, books, or other sources of reliable information that help you better understand healthcare topics that affect you or your family.

Tell your doctor when you need more time to talk about something.
If you think you might need extra time to talk during your visit, let the appointment scheduler know ahead of time.

Take notes, or bring along a family member or close friend.
Taking notes during your visit (or making a recording of your visit with your doctor’s permission) can come in handy later when you’re trying to remember exactly what your doctor told you. If you have a lot of questions walking in the door, writing them down ahead of time can help you make sure you cover everything during your visit.

In some cases, it may make sense to ask a close friend or family member to join you for at least a portion of your appointment. Their extra set of ears can prove helpful later, and in cases where your anxiety is elevated, a friend or family member can help you think of questions you might not remember to ask otherwise.

Don’t try to cram too much in to one visit.
If you’ve got a lot of issues you want to discuss with your doctor, it may be helpful to break them up over two or three appointments, so that you are allowing enough time for thorough communication.

Practice active listening.
Try to clear mind of distractions when it’s time for your appointment. If you are using your smart phone or are overly-focused on the next thing you want to say while your doctor is talking to you, you may miss important information. Repeat what you think you have heard back to your doctor to make sure that you are both on the same page.

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