Correct and effective medical treatment starts with the right medical information.
I’ve written about doctor-patient communication before, because it’s the most important part of the encounter. No amount of lab tests, scans,or invasive procedures substitutes for the information we get from patients.
You may think doctors make a diagnosis based on lab tests or xrays. But much of the time, those tests only confirm what we already think based on your symptoms. If we misunderstand what you describe, or fail to get complete information we may start testing for something far removed from what is wrong with you.
Wrong information > wrong working diagnosis>wrong testing>wrong final diagnosis
Doctors are learning how to communicate better with patients. One key is using “plain language” rather than medical jargon. However, even plain language can be misunderstood. And with a plethora of medical information online patients know and use medical terms too. Communication between doctors and patients may never be perfect, but we can do better.
Here are some tips on talking to your doctor .
There are always exceptions. Doctors have different communication styles, and may interact differently than what I’m suggesting here. These are general guidelines.
GET TO THE POINT
Be clear and specific about why you are there; don’t expect your doctor to uncover a hidden objective.
Sometimes we can read between the lines and suspect you didn’t come because of a mole that hasn’t changed in 10 years. So if you’re there because you’ve been having chest pain and you’re worried it’s your heart, say so . Then we have time to give your concern the time it deserves .
All coughs are not created equal. Knowing your cough started yesterday rather than 6 months ago helps me determine the more likely cause.
Tell your doctor how long, how often, how severe, what helps, what worsens, your symptoms; that helps to narrow the possible causes.
This post will explain
STAY ON POINT
Finish talking about your cough before starting to talk about the pain in your back.
A string of symptoms without detail is confusing and doesn’t give me enough information to evaluate any of them.
BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR HEALTH AND LIFE
Sometimes patients leave out important information due to forgetting, thinking it’s not important, embarrassment, or fear. But that may be the very piece of data I need to pinpoint what’s wrong.
So tell the doctor
- If you can’t do something you’re asked to do,
- if you can’t afford the medication,
- if your insurance doesn’t cover something,
- if you are afraid to go for the test
- if you are seeing other doctors for anything,
- how much you smoke,drink, or other habits
Ask questions if you don’t understand something.
If you don’t, I may assume you do understand. Ask me to review what I told you. Put it in your own words and ask me if that’s what I meant.
Patients may use words or terms they assume I understand, but may mean something different to us.
“Heart attack” often means something different to patients than to doctors.
( Patients may use it to refer to any sudden heart problem, while doctors understand it to mean a specific event called a myocardial infarction.)
In general, avoid using diagnostic terms. Instead of saying, “I have a sinus infection.”, we need to hear “My nose is stuffed up, I’m sneezing, and my throat is scratchy.”
Some words your doctor may ask you to clarify-
- Dizzy- do you mean off balance or spinning?
- Tired- do you mean fatigued or sleepy?
- Difficulty focusing – do you mean vision focus or mental focus?
- Weak- do you lack energy or lack strength?
- “I’ve tried everything.”- Tell me what “everything” is.
If you have received a specific diagnosis from a doctor, it’s helpful for us to know that; we may want to confirm it with appropriate questions, exam, review of your records, and possibly additional testing.
And I share medical terms and their meanings at Watercress Words on Facebook
TELL ME WHAT WENT WRONG
I know this one is tricky; you don’t want to offend me, maybe you’re afraid you won’t get good care if you complain. But I can’t fix problems if I don’t know about them.
If my care or care from my staff is unsatisfactory, please tell me. If you offer constructive criticism about specific problems, we can work together to solve them. And if it’s not something I can or will change, I will explain.
Learn to handle conflict here Why patients sue their doctors
Talking to your doctor should be comfortable and therapeutic. Remember
It’s all about you,
It’s not a surprise to your doctor- we’ve heard just about everything before