What to Say at Your Appointment: 7 Tips From Doctors
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.
How You Can Get Your Doctor to Listen to You https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/thumbnail/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Fdb%2Fdc%2Fb55c16a14a08ad1586a1cd995785%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-doctor-patient.jpg
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."
1. Bring a list of questions. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/thumbnail/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Ff3%2F07%2F825ffba64129bb0cc178f32c8097%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-older-man-with-letter.jpg
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.
2. Write down your story. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1494x999%2B5%2B0/resize/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Fc3%2F1b%2F5789685e4e5bb9092df384d100a1%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-older-woman-writing.jpg
"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
3. Prioritize your issues. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/crop/1461x977%2B38%2B0/resize/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F1d%2F6a%2Fc02933434b1190a0cb58b654aca0%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-woman-with-stomach-pain.jpg
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?'"
4. Be clear about your concerns. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/thumbnail/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2Ffa%2F5a%2F72ba3d5b440286d4bc66c2c53498%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-chest-pain-patient.jpg
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."
5. Go to your doctor regularly. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/thumbnail/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F04%2F0c%2F91012c674653a51f22d9183166f0%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-doctors-appointment.jpg
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."
6. Talk about next steps. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/thumbnail/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F2f%2F30%2F4f80b6b7462687b9f6f3f430468f%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-patient-doctor-x-rays.jpg
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. Advocate for yourself or your family member. https://d33ljpvc0tflz5.cloudfront.net/dims3/MMH/thumbnail/580x388/quality/75/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fd26ua9paks4zq.cloudfront.net%2F33%2F74%2Fa7c7e7914edeb60298332984f880%2Fresizes%2F1500%2Fimage-kid-parent-doctor.jpg