What to Say at Your Appointment: 7 Tips From Doctors

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Katie Lambert on February 17, 2021
  • doctor, patient
    How You Can Get Your Doctor to Listen to You
    Patients who consider their doctors empathetic have more trust in their expertise and tend to stick to their recommendations, studies show. The more you like your doctor, the more willing you are to listen to what he or she has to say. But the conversation goes both ways, and it's just as important for your doctor to listen to you. If you feel like that isn't happening, you may want to find a new one. Even a good doctor may need a brush-up on communication from time to time, however. Here are seven tips doctors shared with us to help you have more effective conversations with your own physician.
  • Older man with letter
    1. Bring a list of questions.
    Dr. Thomas Discher, a cardiologist at Advocate Heart Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital in Illinois, says his biggest piece of advice is to bring a list of questions. "This creates a framework to understanding a patient's medical condition," he says. Dr. James Fortenberry, pediatrician-in-chief at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, agrees. "Being prepared with your questions and even writing them down can be helpful. In the rush of a visit, parents often get distracted keeping their little one from running around or keeping their child calm, and they can forget what they wanted to ask. Having questions written down in advance helps ensure you cover everything you wanted to during the visit."
  • Older woman writing
    2. Write down your story.
    The story of your concerns is key. "When listening to a patient, I want to understand the story of their symptoms, when it began," says Dr. Discher. "How long did it last? What made it better or worse? I need to know about their medical history, which includes prior testing results. Then I need to know what their concerns are. It sounds straightforward, but sometimes it’s best for patients to write down the outline of their story prior to the visit." Make sure you also have a list of all medications you take, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal remedies.
  • Woman with stomach pain
    3. Prioritize your issues.
    "We may not be able to address every single issue and concern in one visit, so let's address the more important ones first," says Dr. JoAnne Rogers, a family medicine physician affiliated with the Memorial Hermann Medical Group. She says it's not uncommon for a patient to mention a worrying symptom, such as losing weight due to stomach pain, almost in passing as the visit ends. "That's what we need to start with." Dr. Fortenberry adds, "I always try to get to the one thing my patient needs to make his or her life better or to simply feel better." If you can pinpoint what it is, you and your physician can work together toward that goal.
  • Chest pain patient
    4. Be clear about your concerns.
    If you feel like your doctor isn't listening or is brushing off your symptoms, Dr. Discher recommends finding another way to express your concerns. "Restate the symptom and the associated concern. For example, 'I am having chest pain. I am concerned about this being from my heart and having a heart attack. What can you do to find out about the cause of my pain?'"
  • Doctor's appointment
    5. Go to your doctor regularly.
    Build a relationship with your physician with regular visits, as you're able. "We may only have 15 minutes together for an appointment. If you really want a good relationship with your doctor, you need to see them at regular intervals," says Dr. Rogers. "Even for people who are relatively well, if you come in every three months, it helps me see your health over a period of time. I'm better able to assess, evaluate, and treat you even within 15 minutes."
  • Patient, doctor, X-rays
    6. Talk about next steps.
    Physicians like to focus on solutions. "Physicians generally have a short period of time to really focus on the patient, and we want to make sure when the parent and child leave they feel like they got their biggest question answered and they have next steps," says Dr. Fortenberry. If your physician shares a treatment plan, he or she wants to feel like you're paying attention and plan to follow recommendations, so ask questions. If you need more information, get advice on trustworthy resources. "The internet has so much information it can be a blessing and a curse. When you're seeking knowledge, ask your physician's advice on the best places to look."
  • Kid, parent, doctor
    7. Advocate for yourself or your family member.
    It's OK to push if you're not getting what you need. Coming from a pediatrician's perspective, Dr. Fortenberry says, "Remember, you're there as a patient and family and your physician’s job is to answer the questions you have about your child’s health. Be willing to respectfully bring that up and be comfortable asking the doctor to take it back to the focus of your visit. We always want to be respectful, but never hesitate to advocate for your child." And that goes for all patients.
7 Tips for Getting Your Doctor to Listen to You
  1. Patient-Centered Care: What It Means And How To Get There. Health Affairs. http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2012/01/24/patient-centered-care-what-it-means-and-how-to-get-there/
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Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.