Questions you must ask your doctor before and after care

You can master medical terminology . How many new things have you learned in the past 5 years? Each of those had a vocabulary and instructions that you learned and now use regularly. Think of your first computer, smartphone, tablet, digital camera, or even a coffee maker . You make the effort to learn what is important to you .

In another post I discussed the importance of establishing a connection between doctors and patients before trying to communicate. The goal is to establish effective patient engagement. You might want to read it now, but this post will make sense even if you don’t; you can always read it later. (The current post was previously published as part 2)

3 keys to effective communication with your doctor

Now we’re going to look at some practical aspects of exchanging information with doctors- remember, exchange means give something and receive something  in return. 

Doctors want to give patients the information they need and most of the time believe they have done so. We are surprised when patients come back and say we didn’t explain their problem and its treatment, or they didn’t understand what we told them about it. I think this happens for 2 reasons.

  • We doctors tell patients what we think is important, but it may not be what you the patient or family considers most important.
  • After patients hear part of what we say, they get saturated and don’t hear the rest, especially when it is emotionally charged.

That’s why it is so important for patients and families to ask questions; don’t just rely on what the doctors volunteer. What is important to them may not be what is most important to you. And the more specific questions you ask, the more detailed the information you receive will be.

one question you should always ask at each visit

“What is the most important problem today, and what is the next step in treating it?”

The most important problem that the doctor finds may not be the one you were admitted for or came to the office for. Or if you came with multiple problems, the most important may not be the one that seemed most urgent to you.

and the answer you need to know at each doctor visit

For example, you may go to an emergency facility for an injury that caused a large gash on your leg, one that needs stitches. This is an urgent problem that needs to be treated. But the doctor finds that you have high blood pressure that you didn’t know about.

High blood pressure can lead to heart failure and stroke  if left untreated. So the doctor is going to instruct you to see your primary care doctor to have this problem addressed. In terms of your long term health, the high blood pressure is your most important problem today.

Sometimes these unexpected problems can get lost if you and the doctor only communicate about the urgent problem and what happens next with it.

It is important to control blood pressure
High blood pressure can cause a heart attack.
questions, questions, questions

You will get more helpful information from your doctor if your questions are as specific as you can ask; always inquire about how tests and procedures this will affect your treatment and recovery. Here are some examples-

  • What did the xray show and what does mean for my problem?
  • What was blood test result and will it change my treatment?
  • How will this procedure change my condition?
  • What needs to happen before we move to the next step?

Write important things down. Questions that you want to ask. Information that the doctors need. Answers to the questions. Refer to it each time you speak with the doctors.

It doesn’t end when you are discharged

When you or a loved one is in the hospital, your main concern is going home. When the time comes to be discharged, it is just as important to ask questions and understand the plan as during the illness. Too many times I have had patients return to my office after a hospital stay  unable to give me any information about their illness and care . Important information to know include

  • What problems were treated during this admission and how did they change?
  • What will we need to do at home to continue the recovery?
  • When do we need to see a doctor and which doctor do we see?
  • What medications will I need to be on when I go home?
Understanding your doctor– medical jargon may not be the problem

Doctors are being encouraged and taught to use “plain language” when talking to patients, meaning limiting the use of medical jargon. I agree that a string of highly technical terms of any kind makes communication harder. But I’m not sure that simply using plain words solves the problem either. Whatever terms you use to exchange information must be understood by both persons. And that is not always the case.

Here’s an example.

If a doctor says that you or a relative has had a Myocardial infarction , do you know that that means a Heart attack? 

But, do you know exactly what heart attack means? Probably not.

What causes heart disease?
A heart attack means the heart muscle is injured from too little oxygen reaching it, usually due to blockage in the arteries.

So,  if the doctor says “heart attack” without adding any additional information, you should ask

  • “I understand a heart attack to mean ________. Is this correct?”
  • “I do not understand what a heart attack is. Please explain.”
Learning the language

You can master medical  terminology . How many new things have you learned in the past 5 years? Each of those had a vocabulary and instructions that you learned and now use regularly. Think of your first computer, smartphone, tablet, digital camera, or even a coffee maker . You make the effort to learn what is important to you . 

Make an attempt to learn about your and your family’s medical issues; even if you don’t understand it completely, your doctor will appreciate that you are trying.

In addition to  doctors you have nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, physical therapists, social workers who can answer questions. Ask for referrals to community resources.

There are helpful resources on the Internet so anyone with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone has access to medical information anywhere anytime.

Learn the basics of medical terminology here-

Understanding Medical Words: A Tutorial from the National Library of Medicine

Find the meaning of medical words and terms here

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia

rhinoceros
It’s easy to remember that “rhino” refers to the nose, as in rhinosinusitis.

Also on this topic, my previous  post

How to tell your doctor what’s wrong with you 

exploring the HEART of communication

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha 

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

 

 

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