How to Talk to Your Doctor Effectively

smiling doctor measuring senior woman's blood pressureAn effective patient-doctor relationship is a partnership. You and your doctor are a team, facing your health challenges together.

One of the strongest tools in your arsenal is the ability to communicate openly with your doctor. While it may be hard to be perfectly honest about intimate health issues, you gain nothing by holding back crucial information. The older you get, the more important it becomes to talk to your doctor often.

Here are some tips to improve your communication with your doctor and other medical professionals:

Choose a Doctor You’re Comfortable With

Your primary doctor should be compassionate, patient, and easy to talk to. The better your relationship with your doctor, the more likely you are to have better health outcomes. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your current doctor, it may be time to look for a new one.

When looking for a new doctor, make a list of what is important to you in a primary doctor. Do you want to see a male or female physician? Would you prefer a family practitioner, an internist, or a geriatrician? Some seniors prefer a doctor with an individual practice, while others prefer a group practice.

Whatever your preferences may be, have them in mind when looking for a doctor. Then set out to find the perfect doctor. Keep in mind your insurance company’s network, if they have one. You can get recommendations from friends, relatives, and local long-term care facilities. Remember that your best friend’s doctor may not be a perfect fit for you.

You may want to schedule an appointment to interview a prospective doctor and see how well his or her bedside manner appeals to you. The doctor may charge you for this appointment, but that may be a worthwhile investment if it’s important to you to find a doctor you can really communicate with.

Plan Each Appointment Ahead of Time

Statistics show that doctors give their patients an average of 18 seconds to talk before interrupting them. Hopefully your primary doctor is a little more patient and respectful than that, but it’s still a good idea to come to your appointment prepared.

Make a list of all your concerns and questions ahead of time. Whether you’re feeling a new symptom, you’re concerned about medication dosage, or you have several questions, write them down in order of importance to you. Here’s a handy worksheet from the National Institute on Aging to write down your concerns so that you don’t forget anything while you’re there: NIA Doctor’s Appointment Worksheet.

Make sure to also bring a list of all medications and supplements you’re taking, so your doctor has a clear picture at the beginning of the appointment.

You may want to take brief notes as you talk with your doctor, so you remember what you discussed once you get home. And if you don’t have time to fully cover all your concerns, don’t hesitate to schedule another appointment.

Be Honest With Your Doctor

It can be tempting to tell your doctor you don’t smoke as often as you used to, or you started watching your sodium intake more. Nothing could be more dangerous than stretching the truth about your health. Your doctor can only help you if he has the full picture of your current situation.

If your doctor previously recommended lifestyle or diet changes, and you did not successfully implement them, don’t be embarrassed to admit it. Since you chose a caring, patient doctor, he will not yell at you or shame you for having trouble. Rather, he will gently help you make those changes to improve your health.

Sometimes it can be downright embarrassing to describe personal health concerns, such as incontinence or sexual dysfunction. Don’t worry about your doctor’s reaction—as an experienced physician, he or she has already heard or seen it all. And your doctor’s main goal is helping you manage your symptoms and restore your quality of life.

Writing down your symptoms beforehand, as we mentioned, can help you formulate them clearly and concisely in the comfort of your own home. That can minimize some embarrassment you may be feeling over your health problems.

Ask Questions

As the patient, you have the right to fully understand your health by the time the appointment is over. But if you don’t ask questions, your doctor may assume you understand what was discussed. Ask for clarification if you don’t know the meaning of a word or medical term.

It’s especially important to clearly understand medical instructions. For example, when your doctor tells you to take a specific medication with food, does he mean before, during, or after a meal?

When your doctor orders a medical test you’re unsure about, here are some questions you can ask to help clarify their necessity:

  • What is the test for?
  • What steps does the test involve?
  • How should I get ready for the test?
  • Are there any side effects or dangers associated with this test?
  • How long will it take to get the results? How will I find out about the results?
  • What will we know after the test?

Don’t worry about pestering your doctor with questions. This is your health on the line, and your doctor is there to make sure you’re clear on every point.

When it comes to a deciding on a treatment, it’s even more important to ask questions. You should always know why you need a treatment, what it entails, and what alternatives there are. Before agreeing to a treatment, you deserve to understand the risks and benefits, as well as how it may impact your life.

Let Your Doctor Know About Life Changes

Your doctor can get a better picture of your health if you talk about the non-medical parts of your life. Your doctor can help you with decisions such as stopping to drive, moving to an assisted living facility, or drawing up a living will. It will also help your doctor if he knew you just lost a loved one, or you have to sell your home.

Your doctor is more than just a healthcare provider. He’s your trusted partner in maintaining your health, and as such, a good relationship is paramount. For help choosing a patient, caring, and knowledgeable doctor, feel free to contact us at Bridgeway Senior Living.