How to talk to your doctor to improve your medical care

Talking to your doctor should be comfortable and therapeutic. #communication

For you to receive correct and effective medical treatment , your doctors need 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 suspect  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  

taking blood pressure

 

 

 

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.

 

2 medical people talking to a patient
a patient encounter in a rural clinic in Panama

 

 

 

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 .

GIVE DETAIL

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

How to tell your doctor what’s wrong with you. 

 

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 MEDICAL HISTORY AND LIFESTYLE

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

 

TALK BACK

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.

BE SPECIFIC

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.)

diagram of the human heart

 

 

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.

 

Read about Understanding medical terms and asking questions 

 

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 

 

 

doctor holding a patient's hand
Courtesy and kindness should be part of every medical encounter.

 

 

Talking to your doctor should be comfortable and therapeutic. Remember

It’s confidential,

It’s all about you,

It’s not a surprise to your doctor- we’ve heard just about everything before

 

 

Over the Moon Link Party- featured Blogger
This post was featured at Over the Moon Link Party

 

Health blogs you should read- blogs by docs (part 1)

These blogs open a window into the medical community. You may be surprised that physicians have the same concerns about health and medical care as you , and some that you are unaware of. Most importantly, you will find they are on your side; they care about you,their patients, probably a lot more than you care about them.

Why read Health, Fitness, and Medical blogs

Since I started blogging I have reviewed many health, fitness and wellness blogs. I find most of them interesting and/or entertaining. I find a few of them informative, stimulating ,and valuable.

  • health bloggers who write about their personal experience dealing with a particular medical condition, which I think can be powerful and helpful.
  • bloggers who discuss and promote a particular lifestyle or product that they believe has value to health and/or fitness.
  • blogs written by people with training and experience in some aspect of medical care, wellness, fitness and/or nutrition (all of which I define broadly)

I think all of these blogs have a place and all seem to have their audience. One of the first things I check when I read a blog is the “about” section, or its equivalent. I want to know who writes the blog and what their credentials are. Anyone who writes a blog about a particular topic should clearly and accurately state their credentials for that topic, or lack of, if that’s the case. (I state my credentials on the page “Meet Dr. Aletha”)

Health blogs worth reading

In this blog series, I tell you about health blogs that I think are worth reading. Most of them are written by physicians, medical scientists, other health professionals and affiliated professionals. Persons who spend the majority, if not all, of their adult life studying and pursuing a discipline, likely know that subject well.

I recommend these health blogs because they

  • offer valid medical information on a variety of topics.
  • offer sound advice without quick fixes.
  • discuss common everyday health concerns
  • discuss the healthcare system, how it works well and how it doesn’t.
  • offer insights on healthy living, both as individuals, families and a society.
  • show you how physicians think , feel and act , both as persons and professionals
  • will educate and challenge you.

These blogs open a window into the medical community.  You may be surprised that physicians have the same concerns about health and medical care as you , and some that you are unaware of. Most importantly, you will find they are on your side; they care about you,their patients,  probably a lot more than you care about them.

These bloggers’ viewpoints often surprise and challenge me; I don’t always agree with them and you may not either.  By recommending them, I don’t endorse their opinions, nor do I benefit financially.  

“Alert and Oriented”

the progress notes of Michel Accad, M.D.

(Doctors write progress notes  in the charts of hospitalized patients to document medical treatment and response each day)

Dr. Accad is a cardiologist and internist in solo private practice and teaches at the University of California San Francisco.

” ‘Alert and Oriented’ is a medical phrase that describes the mental status of a patient who, despite being in serious shock from trauma or disease, maintains clarity of mind and focus of thought.

EKG tracing of heart activity on a cardiac monitor.
Based on the heart rhythm, this patient is likely alert and oriented.

Sadly, the medical community enmeshed in today’s health care system is like a patient in acute shock. The only chance to survive is to remain alert and oriented.” (quote from the blog introduction)

Dr. Accad blogs about the healthcare system, the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics, medical economics, and health care policy.

In this post he explains the

evolution of the food pyramid to the healthy plate nutrition recommendation.

healthy plate of vegetables , pita bread and hummus

In another interesting post, he explains

why mammograms may be over diagnosing breast cancer.

Breast cancer screening and treatment: One size doesn't fit all. bras hanging on a clothes line

The Accad and Koka Report podcast

Dr. Accad has joined Anish Koka, M.D. in a weekly medical podcast, The Accad & Koka Report. In their own words,

We discuss current topics in medical science, policy, economics, and ethics, always with an eye toward safeguarding the doctor-patient relationship .

Their conversations are aimed more at physicians than patients, but if you want to know what some physicians really think about the U.S. healthcare system, you might find out here. Here is an episode anyone might find interesting-what happened when a 90 year old patient of Dr. Koka was told

“You’ll be dead in a year”- A Patient’s Journey though the Healthcare System

exploring the HEART of health

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

Dr. Aletha

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