Tips for Talking with Your Doctor
Do you ever leave your doctor’s office with more questions than answers? Short appointments and miscommunication can leave patients and providers alike feeling frustrated. In this article from the BETA archive, Kathleen Clanon, MD, and Nancy Halloran, MPH, share how to boost communication with your clinician (or find a new one) and suggest ways to get your needs met during your medical visits.
Here’s an excerpt with smart strategies for getting your questions answered and your priorities heard in your next appointment:
- Write down your questions. Don’t skip this step! This is probably the single most important tool for getting your needs met. Just about everyone gets nervous or distracted in that brief 15-minute visit, and most of us forget things. A simple list of issues to be addressed will help keep you and your provider on track.
- Tell the clinician your agenda early in the visit. Providers are almost always worried about time, and if you wait until the end of your 15 minutes to bring up an issue, yours will be less likely to pay attention the way you want him or her to. Often it is the problem you are most anxious about that gets left until the end of the visit—and that is just the problem that is going to worry you if it isn’t discussed. So, it’s even more important to put the scary or embarrassing questions on the table right at the beginning, and to be clear about what you need: “I’m worried about this rash and I need to know more about it before I leave today.”
- Use concrete examples when you are describing symptoms. This is especially important when you are talking about pain or fatigue. People use lots of different words to describe pain, so telling the clinician how the pain affects your life will give a better idea of how serious the pain is. “My knee has been hurting” may not get the attention it deserves; better to give more detail: “My knee hurts so badly that I can’t sleep and I can’t climb stairs.” Fatigue is another very common HIV-related symptom in which the words mean different things to different people. Instead of talking about being tired all the time, it can be more helpful to say, “Three days a week I don’t even get out of bed” or “I can’t concentrate through a whole TV show.”
- Bring a buddy with you. This is very useful, especially when you have new symptoms. Your friend or ally can come right into the exam room with you when you go to see the clinician. Your buddy can help you keep track of your questions; take notes and help you remember what the clinician says; and be your advocate, especially if you need to confront your clinician about a problem.
Want more tips and strategies for getting the most from your medical care? Click here to read the full article.