In the past, the patient-doctor relationship was one-directional—the doctor typically took the lead and the patient followed. Today, a good patient-doctor relationship is a partnership. How well you and your doctor talk to each other is one of the most important parts of getting good care.
Yet, talking to your doctor is not always easy. It takes time and effort on your part as well as your doctor’s.
Here are some tips to help you to talk with your doctor and be an active partner in your own care.
- Make a list of your concerns and prioritize them. Start this list a few weeks before your appointment, so you have time to add issues you may have forgotten at first. If you have more than a few things to discuss, put them in order, starting with the 3 or 4 most important to you. Then tell your doctor what these are at the beginning of the appointment. This way you can discuss them first to ensure you don’t run out of time, and move on to other concerns if time allows.
- Be honest. It’s tempting to say what you think your doctor wants to hear, like you’ve stopped smoking or eat a balanced diet. While this is natural, it’s not in your best interest. Your doctor needs all the facts to keep you well. You might say “I have been trying to quit smoking, as you recommended, but I’m not making much headway.”
- Make sure you understand. It’s hard to remember what you don’t understand. Ask about anything that does not seem clear. You might say, “I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain that a little more?” or “I’m not familiar with that word. What does it mean”? Another helpful trick is to repeat what you think the doctor means in your own words, and ask “Is this correct?”
- Get written or recorded materials. Ask if your doctor has any fact sheets or brochures about your health conditions or treatment. Many doctors’ offices can easily print this information from their electronic health record and give it you during your visit. Or turn to the welcoming staff at our Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center where you can get personalized assistance on finding information about medical conditions, making informed healthcare decisions, and more.
Many people go to the doctor ready to just listen and let the doctor take the lead. But the best patient-doctor relationships are partnerships. With good communication, you and your doctor can work together, along with other members of your health care team, to take care of your medical concerns and keep you as healthy as possible.
Robyn Skiff is a medical home self-management program coordinator at the Community Health Improvement department at the UVM Medical Center.