How To Talk To Your Doctor

Doctor Patient Interaction

Where in life do you meet a stranger, divulge personal information, step on a scale, undress, awkwardly shimmy into a noisy paper gown, willingly yield parts of your body for painful sticks, prods and probes, only to be met with words you don’t understand by a person you sense is in a hurry to usher you out the door? When we take a step back, going to the doctor is an extremely vulnerable process. And sadly the provider-patient interaction can be an unpleasant one. As a third generation primary care provider, a self-conscious patient, a mother of young children and wife of a needle-phobe, I want to empower you as a patient to be your own advocate at your appointments.

Smart Searches 

What do you do when you have a new symptom that concerns you? A recent Pew Research Center study shows that 77% of all U.S adults consult the internet for their health-related concerns. This study shows that most of us who turn to the web for answers broadly type in symptoms to a large search engine like Google. Unfortunately such an open search leads us to as much opinion-based literature as fact.

Where can you find a site you can trust? According to a 2015 Harvard Medical School Study, “symptom checker” websites are increasing the accuracy of diagnosis and triage, but they still get it wrong 50% of the time. If you decide to consult the web for answers, it’s better to start with one of the sites listed below, as they are more likely to point you in the right direction. But always use caution and know the best place to begin is with your doctor.

 Bring Your List 

Working as a Nurse Practitioner in a primary care office, I encountered two types of patients: a list carrier and a silent sitter. The list carriers bring out their folded scrap of paper where they have jotted down the five things they wanted to be sure to ask me while in the visit. Due to the demands of my schedule, I would look over the list with them and ask them which two or three topics were most important. Providers can’t always address all the questions in a single visit, but chances are a few of the topics will require you to follow up. Each time you go to an appointment, come prepared with a list. It allows you to feel heard and keeps the communication open between you and your provider.

Share Your Fears

Dan, 63, has been going to the doctor for a few months now trying to get to the root of his fatigue. The doctor has run tests, encouraged exercise routines, sleep strategies and even an antidepressant. But Dan is beginning to loose trust in his doctor because his biggest fear is that he might have leukemia like his neighbor who just passed away. Dan isn’t sure how to bring this up at his appointments, and his doctor isn’t a mind reader.

As a primary care provider, I find it easier to build trust if I hear from a patient: “I’ve been tired for the last three weeks. I know this might sound crazy, but my neighbor had this same thing happen to him. He was diagnosed with leukemia and I just went to his funeral last week.” I know right away that this is a real fear and there are a few basic tests we can run to know whether this looks like leukemia. Dan can rest assured that he isn’t going to suffer the same fate as his neighbor. He also feels heard in his concerns, and we can dive into the root of his fatigue from a place of trust rather than aimlessly running tests. So go ahead and share that root fear! Providers have heard it all.

Take Notes & Repeat Back

Sometimes what the providers says and I what I hear are two different things. When I am in an appointment with my twins, I’m trying to have a conversation about their health while they are quite literally bouncing off the walls. Did he say take the medicine twice a day or once a day? I’ve learned that I need to jot down notes when the provider is talking and then before I leave just summarize again what I’ve heard. “So Annie takes this nose spray once a day before she goes to bed, right?” The power of repeating back helps everyone stay on the same page.

 Be Your Own Advocate

Take Command Health’s mission is to empower individuals to be savvy health insurance consumers. Your time, health and finances are valuable! We want to help you be your own advocate when it comes to your healthcare journey. Did you find this helpful? Share it with your friends!

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