I have received a few calls from patients asking me for tips on how to better communicate with their physicians. Some people tend to get nervous and clam up when talking with their doctor, and others have trouble remembering important information that was discussed during the visit. Rest assured there are ways to help improve effective communication between you and your healthcare professional. Below are ten helpful tips to keep in mind when preparing for the next trip to your medical office. This basic plan provided by the National Institute on Aging will help you get the most out of your medical appointment.
- If you have more than a few items to discuss, make a list of your concerns and prioritize them. This will help to keep your appointment on track and assure that you maximize face-to-face time with your physician.
- Take information with you, such as a list of your prescription drugs, insurance cards, medical records and a list of the other providers or specialists you are seeing for medical care.
- Update the doctor about what has happened since your last visit. Were you seen in the Emergency Room, has your weight changed, are you experiencing a change in your appetite, did you change supplements? This is all important information that your healthcare professional should be aware of.
- Make sure you can see and hear as well as possible. If you wear eyeglasses, put them on, if you use a hearing aid, place it in your ear. If you are having a hard time hearing, ask the medical staff to, “Please slow down when speaking to you.” It is important that you gather as much information as possible during these visits – you can’t remember what you don’t hear! (If you are hard of hearing, ask a medical staff member is they can provide you with a hearing assistance device during your visit.)
- Consider bringing a family member or friend. Your companion can help remind you of any health problems that you intended to discuss during your appointment. Make sure you discuss your priorities first and if you would like alone time with your doctor at some point during the visit. Your friend or family member can also be useful by taking notes for you while you are engaged with the doctor.
- If you do not have a companion that can take notes for you, take notes yourself. Take along a notepad and something to write with so you can jot down notes and reflect later about things your doctor said.
- Make sure you understand the information you are being told. From check-in to check-out, take control of your medical visit. Use the term, “I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain that a little more?” or “I’m not familiar with that word. What does that word mean?” Repeating your doctor is another way to verify that you understand the information correctly.
- If English is your second language, arrange for an interpreter or interpreting device to be present. It is best to arrange this in advance, so let your provider’s office know as soon as you decide you will need one. Make sure your interpreter clearly understands what you hope to get out of this appointment and any symptoms you are experiencing.
- Get written materials such as brochures, fact sheets, DVD’s, etc., about your condition. Also, ask your doctor if he/she can recommend other sources, such as websites, government agencies or resource libraries. Expand your knowledge on the topic of interest and reach out to others that are able to help you.
- Talk to other members on the healthcare team. Don’t be afraid to speak with nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals. There are times when your doctor may find it beneficial for you to speak to other medical professionals so you can better understand and manage your condition. They also may be able to take more time speaking with you than you doctor.
- BONUS TIP: If you are uncertain about your doctor’s instructions when you get home, follow up with your provider’s office. Don’t make assumptions about your healthcare! Call your provider’s office or message your provider via a patient portal. Patient portal messaging is a secure way to communicate with your healthcare team. It will reduce your time spent on the phone and you will have a written response conveniently sent to you in the comfort of your own home!
By Jacqueline Marucci, Health Resource Coordinator, Take charge of your health by following this basic plan. You will be sure to get more out of your medical appointments! For more important health tips, visit the National Institute on Aging’s webpage at www.nia.nih.gov/health.