Practical Tips for Communicating with Doctors

Patient communicating with the doctor
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Got a doctor's appointment? Great! Now all you need is a medical terminology translator. Okay, it's probably not that bad, but sometimes, communicating with your doctor can feel like you're speaking two different languages. Here's how to communicate effectively and get the most out of this opportunity.

1) Write It Down.

Write your questions down ahead of time, and when you're in her office, write down the answers.

Even if your memory's perfect, it can be difficult to remember every detail, and often, some of those details are the questions you have later on.

2) Bring Someone Else with You.

You might not always hear or comprehend everything when it's being presented to you. Ask someone else to accompany you to the visit, especially if there's a new diagnosis involved or if you're discussing treatment options.

3) Ask for Clarification.

When you don't understand something or you're surprised about a diagnosis, ask him to explain it. Far better to ask now than wonder later. And if it's a new diagnosis of dementia, here are 12 specific questions to ask.

4) Be Honest about Your Symptoms and the Reason for Your Visit.

It may be difficult to bring up your concern, but it's important. For example, you may be tempted to minimize your symptoms of memory loss so as to not receive bad news or have more tests conducted, but in the end, you're not helping yourself.

Early detection of dementia has many benefits, and sometimes your doctor can determine that there may be a reversible cause of your symptoms.

5) Keep It Focused.

Rather than launch into a long story about your recent fall and how you tripped on the rug that has twenty different colors in it so then you were going to get rid of it but decided your daughter might like it so you called her and offered it to her but then she declined because she didn't need an extra rug...

simply say, "I fell last night in the living room because I tripped on the rug." The physician is typically on a tight schedule and will appreciate the clear, concise and accurate information, and you will get more of your questions addressed.

6) Bring along a Complete List of Medications, Supplements, and Vitamins.

It's hard for the physician to make excellent decisions on treatment if you aren't honest about what other medications, supplements, and vitamins you're taking. And yes, even though your vitamins or supplements may be natural, they still can affect and interact with other medications.

7) Provide Other Health Records

If you've recently been seen by a specialist or other clinician, ask for copies of your visit to be sent to your primary physician. This helps ensure that he has the information he needs in order to appropriately provide medical care for you.

8) Be Organized.

Have your insurance cards with you on your visit, and make sure that your doctor's office has a copy of your power of attorney for healthcare and your living will.

Suggested Reading


Melissa Kaplan's Chronic Neuroimmune Diseases. Can we talk? How to communicate with your doctor. Catherine L. Shaner MD FAAP, Fibromyalgia AWARE, Sept-Dec 2002.

National Institutes of Health. November 6, 2014. Talking to your doctor.

University of California San Fransisco. Communicating with Your Doctor.

University of Minnesota. Communicate Effectively.