If you have been injured or seriously ill you will inevitably find yourself sitting in the doctor’s office with a lot of questions. What often happens is we feel rushed or nervous and forget to ask or forget WHAT to ask. Here is a list of reminders that will help during those times when it is important to know all the facts before making any decisions.
How to Talk to Your Doctor
How do you talk to your doctor? Does he or she do all the talking while you do all the listening? Are you afraid to ask questions? Do you leave the office feeling like you just sat through a foreign language class?
Your relationship with your doctor, including how well you talk with each other, affects your care. A good relationship — where you and your doctor 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 doctor and the quality of care you’re getting. Here are some ways to make talking to your doctor more effective.
Doctors are busy people and their offices are often abuzz with 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 and other supplements.
- 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.
Here are some questions to ask the doctor. You can add to the list as you come up with more questions:
- What is wrong with me? How do you know?
- What caused this problem?
- Must I have tests?
- 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?
- Will I have to take the tests again?
- What are my treatment choices?
- What are the benefits and risks of each treatment?
- What are the side effects?
- How good is each treatment?
- Which treatment is most common for my condition?
- What do I do if treatment fails?
- What kind of medication(s) must I take? For how long?
- 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?
- Do I need to see a specialist?
- Should I get a second opinion?
- Do I need a follow-up visit?
Don’t be put off by big words or a doctor’s hurried 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 doctor told you.
If there are issues you want to discuss that the doctor doesn’t mention, raise them yourself. Doctors 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 or colonoscopy, and ask your doctor about getting them. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to bring up sensitive topics.
Don’t 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 doctor will be able to figure out what’s wrong and how to treat you. Don’t make the doctor 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.
Bring Someone With You
Sometimes, people like to bring a friend or family member to a doctor 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 doctor, 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.
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 doctor, who might not be able to take your call at that moment. If the doctor wants you to come back for a follow up visit, be sure to set and keep the appointment.
Building a successful partnership with your doctor takes time and effort. It’s not uncommon to have a frustrating doctor visit now and then. But overall, your relationship with your doctor should be positive and comfortable. You should have confidence and trust in his or her medical ability and judgment.
Let your doctor know when there’s a problem. If you can’t resolve things together, you might need to entrust your care to someone else.