Communicating with Your Doctor


Basic exams, cholesterol, blood pressure evaluation, body mass index and fasting blood sugars are staples of your physician-patient interaction. But even in this age of advanced technology and scanning, your communication with your own physician trumps all – can lengthen your life and, in some scenarios, can be life-saving.

Computers, in some ways, have adversely affected the communication between you and your doctor. Doctors frantically typing to keep up on their “paperwork” while interviewing a patient and the patient having a cell phone that isn’t turned off are examples of impediments to good communication and sound, open interaction.

Challenges for YOU, the patient

Your OWN physician is the gateway to almost every form of medical care and testing, with few exceptions. This becomes particularly important when you are hospitalized and a “hospitalist” is responsible for your care, while your own doctor may be excluded from this interaction. More than 30 percent of all patients who have been hospitalized cannot remember the name of the physician(s) who cared for them during their hospital stay. Therefore, a conversation between this hospitalist (who doesn’t know you) and YOUR doctor is critical.

On the other hand, many physicians are now employed by a hospital system and may be pressured to only choose services and physicians within that system, limiting their choices. This can take the form of additional steps/roadblocks to choosing other options. You have the right to assert yourself respectfully and ask about all your options with regard to service, cost and talent. Don’t be afraid to do some vetting on your own. That’s an advantage your computer gives YOU ... access to a wide range of information and options.

Tips for your physician visit

Be smart with your doctor’s time – try and encapsulate why you are there and what you hope to achieve in less than 2-3 minutes. Pick two or three concerns to focus on. If your physician interrupts while you’re on the table in a paper gown, don’t be afraid to assert yourself. A gentle reminder, “Do you mind if I just finish what I was saying?” can refocus on your concerns.

Get a commitment from your doctor regarding a plan of communication if you are ever hospitalized.

To make sure you don’t miss anything, take a few notes on a piece of paper (or even your phone, if you use it for that). Sometimes, for older patients or in stressful circumstances, it is helpful to bring a family member to take notes on your behalf.

At the end of your visit, it’s not a bad idea to reiterate – “Here are the main things that concern me” – and in response to your doctor, “Let me be sure I have this right,” and repeat the treatment plan back to be sure everyone’s in agreement.

Like many of us, doctors are under enormous time pressure during the day. That being said, if you have things that you failed to relay, have a method of communication for following up – phone, email, etc. It can be helpful with many medical offices to take advantage of options to email questions before or after your visit. This allows the physician to review and respond during less busy times when they can give your concerns focused attention. There is NO excuse for a doctor not calling you back in a reasonable time frame. But don’t be that patient who pesters your doctor with innumerable calls and contacts. If you do, you may lose their focus (and the goodwill of the office staff).

Finally, choose your words wisely. Here are some translated examples of what the patient says … and what your doctor hears.

“I’m totally fine” … “There is something he/she is not saying”

“I just have a drink/a snack/a little dessert each night” … “at least two drinks/snacks/desserts every night”

“I have headaches all the time” … “This patient is stressed out”

“My wife/husband works all the time” … “There’s a problem at home”

“I brought all my records in” … “Here comes a major data dump”

“My previous doctor did it this way” … “Well, why don’t you go see him/her instead”

You are always your own best advocate, and as all of our schedules get busier and there are many demands on our time and voices to be heard, the best resource for helping your doctor focus on answering your concerns with the best available treatment may be YOU.