How To Talk With Your Healthcare Provider

    A doctor talking to a young womanIn order to have a successful encounter with your healthcare provider you need to ask yourself the following questions.

    • Do you feel comfortable talking with your healthcare provider (clinician)?

    • Does he or she do all the talking while you do all the listening?

    • Are you afraid to ask questions because you are embarrassed or afraid of sounding dumb?

    • Do you leave the office feeling like you just sat through a foreign language class?

    Improving your relationship with your health care provider is based on how well you communicate with each other. Good communication can improve your care and improve your relationship with your healthcare team. A good relationship — where you and your clinician share information and work together to make the best decisions about your health — will result in the best care. You’ll also feel more confident in your clinician and the quality of care you’re getting.

    Here are some ways to make talking to your health care team more effective:

    Be Prepared

    Healthcare providers are busy people and their offices are often full of activity, like ringing telephones and crowded waiting rooms. When you actually see your doctor, your visit probably won’t last more than 15 minutes.

    The best way to make the most of your limited time is to come to your appointment prepared:

    • Write down all the questions you have for the doctor in advance and bring a pen and paper to jot down answers and take notes.

    • Make and bring a list of symptoms if you’re not feeling well. You might want to research your condition at the library or on the internet if you’re visiting your doctor for a specific problem or illness.

    • Learning some related medical terms (see online course below) and common treatments will make it easier to follow what the doctor is telling you.

    • Bring a list of all the medicines you take. Write down the doses and how often you take them. Include vitamins, other supplements, and over-the- counter medicines you take on a regular basis.

    • Arrive early enough to fill out forms.

    Have your insurance card ready and bring your medical records or have them sent in advance if you’re seeing the doctor for the first time. Also bring your health care advance directive, which outlines instructions about your care if you become unable to speak for yourself. Go over it with your doctor so that your wishes are clear. Make sure you have designated someone in your family or a close friend (with a medical background) to have your durable power of attorney for health care. Discuss your wishes for advance life support with that person so that they know your wishes in case you are unable to speak for yourself.

    Here are some questions you should come prepared to ask your clinician. You can add to the list as you come up with more questions.

    Problems

    • What is wrong with me? How do you know?
    • What do you think caused this problem?
    • Will my problem go away or is it a chronic condition that can be controlled by not CURED?

    Tests

    • Must I have tests? Will I have to take the tests again?
    • What tests do I need and why?
    • What do the tests involve?
    • How do I prepare for the tests?
    • When will I know the test results?
    • Will my insurance cover the cost of the tests?

    Treatment

    • What are my different treatment choices?
    • What are the benefits and risks of each treatment?
    • What are the common side effects of the medications you are prescribing for me to take?
    • How effective is each treatment?
    • Which treatment have you found to work in most patients?
    • What do I do if treatment fails?

    Medication

    • What kind of medication(s) must I take for my condition? For how long will I need to take the medication?
    • What does the drug do? Will there be any side effects?
    • What should I do if I have side effects?
    • Can I take a generic version of the drug?
    • Will the medicine interact with any I am already taking?
    • Should I avoid any kind of food or activity while taking this medicine?

    Medical Consultation

    • Do I need to see a specialist?
    • Should I get a second opinion?

    When Communicating with Your Doctor, Remember to:

    Speak Up. Don’t be put off by big words or a health care provider’s impatient manner. If you don’t understand what the doctor is telling you, ask him or her to explain it again. Using different words, or drawing or showing you a picture can help. Don’t leave the office without understanding everything the clinician has told you.

    If Your Clinician Doesn’t Mention Something You Want to Discuss, Raise the Issue Yourself. Clinicians often are so focused on making sick people better — or so rushed — they forget to talk about important health matters like diet and weight, exercise, stress, sleep, tobacco and alcohol use, sexual practices, vaccines, and tests to find diseases. Find out what tests you might need for your age, such as a mammogram, prostate exam or colonoscopy, and ask your doctor about getting them.

    Don’t Be Embarrassed or Ashamed to Bring Up Sensitive Topics. Do not withhold information. Speaking up also means telling your doctor everything you know about your body and health, including all your symptoms and problems. The more information you share, the better the clinician will be able to figure out what’s wrong and how to treat you. Don’t make the clinician guess. Be sure to mention any and all medicines, vitamins, and herbs you are taking, and anyone else you are seeing about your health, physical and mental well being.

    Bring a Family Member or Friend with You to Your Appointment. Sometimes, people like to bring a friend or family member to a medical appointment for moral support. A companion also could help you relax, remind you of questions you forgot to ask, and help you remember what the doctor said. If you need personal time with the clinician, the person can sit in the waiting room. Having someone join you is especially helpful if you feel too ill to get around easily on your own.

    Follow Up. If you feel nervous, rushed, or just plain overwhelmed, you might forget to ask a question, even if you wrote it down. If this happens, or if you think of a new question, call the office right away. Be patient but firm if you want to speak directly with the clinician, who might not be able to take your call at that moment. If the clinician wants you to come back for a follow up visit, be sure to set and keep the appointment.

    Building a successful partnership with your health care provider takes time and effort. It’s not uncommon to have a frustrating medical visit now and then. But overall, your relationship with your clinician should be positive and comfortable. You should have confidence and trust in his or her medical ability and judgment.

    In the end, the most important aspect of your relationship with your healthcare provider is TRUST. You must trust your health care provider and feel they are able to help you improve your overall health. If you feel that you are not getting the care that you deserve you may want to consider changing your health care provider.

    By Dr. James R. Gavin, BDO Diabetes Expert

    Dr. Gavin is Clinical Professor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA and at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN. He also served as President and CEO for MicroIslet, Inc. of San Diego, CA. Dr. Gavin is the past president of the American Diabetes Association and past chairman of the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP). He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences.

    Dr. Gavin graduated from Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., in 1966 with a degree in chemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Emory University in 1970 and his M.D. degree from Duke University School of Medicine in 1975, following a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. He was president of the Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA from 2002-2004.

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