Monday, June 24, 2013

How to Talk With Your Doctor – Tips for Effective Communication

Photo by the National Cancer Institute found on Wikimedia Commons
With fitness and health goals in mind, many people make an appointment with a doctor only to walk away after the appointment frustrated, confused, and feeling unsure of how to reach those goals. Many times these feelings result from miscommunication.

Being well-prepared for an appointment and becoming actively involved in developing and carrying out a care plan may lower one's stress level and improve the quality of communication that occurs during a visit to the doctor. The following tips may help to improve the giving and receiving of information that might prove vital to one's health status.

Picture of Telephone by Moribunt on Wikimedia Commons
When Making an Appointment

For many people, making an appointment is a very hard first step due to fears or concerns about one's health. Deciding to speak with a healthcare professional about one's health may pave the way toward better health or at least a better understanding of what to expect.

You may wish to try to make an appointment with the same primary care physician each time in order to achieve better continuity of care. If you have special requests, such as a desire to see a female practitioner for gynecological exams, mention those requests when setting up the appointment.

Be honest about the reason for the visit. Some health concerns may take more time to address than others, and the physician will be better prepared to discuss concerns if he or she has a clear idea of what health issues are prompting the visit.

If you need an interpreter, mention that need when making the appointment. A professional interpreter can greatly help to improve communication when a language barrier exists.

Ask about any special preparations you might need to make or information you may need to collect before the appointment.

You may find it helpful to plan to bring a family member or friend to the appointment, particularly if you would like for that person to be involved in your healthcare plan. Personnel will likely request permission before discussing healthcare issues with another person to ensure that your privacy is respected. Physicians will typically direct questions and care decisions toward the patient unless the patient requests another arrangement.

How to Prepare for a Doctor's Appointment - Photo by Hussein Afzal on Wikimedia Commons
Preparing for an Appointment

Make a list of all symptoms and health problems you are experiencing, even if they seem completely unrelated. Record when the symptoms began and what, if anything, makes them better or worse. If the symptom is hard to describe, such as a rash that comes and goes, try to capture a picture of it and have the photo readily available. You might also email yourself the list or picture if you have an email account that can be accessed anywhere in case you forget to bring it with you to the appointment.

Arrange for transportation with a back-up plan if possible. If you are a caregiver, plan to have another person to provide care in your absence if possible.

Make any preparations for the appointment as directed, such as fasting after midnight or coming prepared to collect a urine sample.

If you have received healthcare services elsewhere and wish to have records available for this physician, ensure that the records have been received. You may need to give specific permission to transmit this information from one facility to another.

Plan to arrive and check in with plenty of time before the appointment, prepared with all paperwork and items, such as:
  • photo identification
  • health insurance card
  • social security number
  • payment, if required before service
  • list of allergies to medications, foods, tapes, etc.
  • bag of medications you are currently taking, including any vitamins/minerals, herbal, or home remedies
  • list of any complementary therapies, such as acupuncture or yoga, you may have already tried
  • information that might be asked, such as last date of immunizations/mammogram, etc.
  • data requested for the visit, such as peak flow readings or blood sugar numbers
  • paper and pen or electronic device for writing yourself notes during the appointment
  • reading materials or something small that interests you in case you must wait a few minutes
How to Speak with Your Physician - Photo by Schnaggli at Wikimedia Commons
In the Waiting Room Before an Appointment

Check in and provide any information requested.

Ensure that you have turned off your cell phone and/or any other electronic devices that might distract you or the physician, rerouting phone calls to voice mail if appropriate.

It is okay to be proactive. For example, if you are having symptoms of a urinary tract infection and need to use the restroom upon arrival, ask if you should obtain a urine sample. If you have symptoms that could be contagious, such as flu-like symptoms, you may ask to wear a mask to protect others in the waiting room.

Complete any paperwork as directed, requesting an interpreter if needed. Sometimes medical forms may seem like they are written in a foreign language, even if they are written in one's own native tongue. It is safer to ask questions than to make assumptions.

How to Talk to the Doctor - Photo by Greencolander at Wikimedia Commons
During an Appointment

Listen carefully to any directions for dressing for an exam, asking questions if you are not sure what to do.

When the doctor enters the room, the patient may wish to lead the direction of the initial conversation. Some people prefer some small talk at the beginning of the appointment while others may wish to immediately discuss health issues.

Once you begin discussing your health concerns, be prepared with any data or items that you have brought, such as a list of symptoms, data you have collected, medications you are taking, and questions you may have. The physician may ask questions about this information in order to ensure that he or she understands the situation completely.

As the physician begins to provide information, you might want to make some notes. He or she may give you a specific diagnosis. If you have multiple health issues, the physician may ask you which problem on which you are ready to focus first.

Many conditions may have multiple options for treatment, and the doctor may present a variety of choices. This is a great time to ask questions about the condition and what to expect with each treatment option. If you have a concern about a healthcare plan, be honest and explain your concerns. The doctor will not know those concerns unless you express them. Ask about alternatives and consequences if you choose not to follow a particular plan.

If the physician prescribes medication, ensure that you know the following:
  • name of the medicine (brand and generic)
  • how it is to be taken (orally, nasally, shot, etc.)
  • dosage
  • frequency (once a day, three times a day, etc.)
  • timing of treatment (until the bottle is finished, only when in pain, on an empty stomach, etc.)
  • any special restrictions (avoiding certain foods or the sun, etc. while taking the medicine)
  • side effects and how to respond if you experience side effects
  • expected amount of time before you should see results from the medication
  • any potential interactions with other medications, foods, etc.
  • that it does not contain ingredients to which you are allergic
  • price and whether or not it is covered by your insurance

Ask for printed directions (translated if applicable) and added information you feel that you need, such as:
  • your diagnosis
  • treatment goals
  • care plans
  • expected outcomes
  • trusted web sites with educational information, forums, pictures, videos, etc.
  • tips for purchasing equipment, if recommended
  • contact information if you are going to be going to another location for lab work, follow-up care, etc.
How to Work With Doctor to Create Fitness Goals - Photo from Wikimedia Commons
After an Appointment

Fill and take any prescriptions as directed. Follow through with any treatments/tests. You may wish to keep a diary or chart your progress. Make notations of any issues that seem to sabotage those efforts. Try different approaches as needed based on your assessments. For example, if you tend to forget to take your medication, you might write yourself a note or set alerts on the computer.

If you begin to experience unexpected problems, such as serious side effects from a medication, contact the office to determine the best and safest course of action. If you are experiencing any life-threatening symptoms, you should immediately seek emergency care.

As you continue working on individualized health care goals, you can then become better prepared for the next office visit, ready to work together with the physician to create future individualized healthcare goals.

Find more articles by Katrena at the Fit Tips 4 Life site map.

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