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10 Important Steps to Better Communication With Your Doctor

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 06/18/2013
Last Updated: 03/12/2019

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In a recent post, I wrote a wish list of things I'd like every doctor or other health care professional to know. It was both an enjoyable and empowering exercise: too often, doctor-patient communication is fraught with time constraints, miscommunication, intimidation, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and confused. It was finally my chance to say what was on my mind (and speak for many of you, too, I'm sure).

Long after I wrote this, the post lingered in my mind, nagging at me. Finally, I realized that I left out a big part.

We, as patients, also bear a responsibility in enhancing doctor-patient communication. And that responsibility is not only to show up, but show up clear-headed and well prepared. We need to be our own advocates, and with that comes work. After all, we are half of the equation. We can have the best, most skilled physician in the universe, but we might never know it if he or she is not given every opportunity to prove it.

Good doctor-patient communication makes a difference, not only in patient satisfaction but in compliance and eventual outcome, too.

In a statement, Alfred A. Bove, MD, PhD, professor emeritus at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia and vice chair of American College of Cardiology's (ACC) Patient-Centered Care Committee, said,

"As clinicians, we have been taught for many years to give patients orders and expect things to happen … but when it comes to the day-to-day management of chronic conditions, like heart disease, we have to empower patients to be actively involved in their own care. We won't be effective unless we move toward a patient-centered approach."

Here are some ways you can get the most from the time you have with your doctor:

1.    Write down questions or issues ahead of time. And prioritize them. We tend to save the most important question for last (and that's when the doctor might have one foot out the door). Keep this notepad handy for taking notes during your visit, too. (Better yet, devote the same notebook to all your doctor visits so you have everything in one place; best to get one with a built-in pocket where you can store copies of your test results.)

2.    If you're there for a diagnostic visit, make sure you come prepared with a detailed description of your symptoms. Be aware of when the problem began, how it makes you feel, what triggers it and what works or doesn't work to make you feel better.

3.    Bring a list of your medications and dosages. Include both prescription and over-the-counter medications and any vitamins, herbs or supplements you take.

READ: Facts to Know About Medication Safety

4.    Make sure you understand how to take any medications that are prescribed. Now's the time to check on interactions with other drugs you take, what to do if you miss a dose, if there is a certain time of day you should take the medication, what side effects to expect, how soon to expect to feel a difference, if there's a generic or less expensive version and if there are any foods, drugs or activities you should avoid while taking the medication. (Your pharmacist is also an invaluable source of this information.)

5.    Ask for support materials.
If your doctor is discussing something like treatment options, it can get confusing and complicated. Many times, pamphlets are available for you to take home. Also, ask about reliable websites that you can refer to once home. The more information you have—providing its current and reliable—the more you're able to participate in your own health care.

6.    Don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for clarification. A study from the University of Washington found that doctors rarely (only 1.5 percent of the time) ask patients whether they understand what was discussed during an appointment. Say something like, "So, if I understand correctly, you are telling me XXX." Reiterate what your understanding of the conversation is.

7.    Check ahead to make sure your doctor has your test results and/or reports from other labs or doctors. This gives you the opportunity to discuss those results in person, rather than over a rushed phone call—assuming you can get your doctor on the phone.

8.    Bring a friend or family member with you. Another set of ears is always helpful. You might be too overwhelmed or emotional to be fully present during a visit and be able to comprehend all that is transpiring. A recorder is also helpful to serve as yet another set of ears.

9.    Be honest! Hiding information about symptoms, personal habits or other things could hinder a proper diagnosis. Sharing information about your health— both emotional and physical—enhances understanding between you and your doctor.

10.    Edit your information. Not to the point of omitting important details (see above); but since studies show that you have only 23 seconds to speak before the doctor interrupts, it's important to weed out any irrelevant facts.


This is such an important post--you're right, we have to play an active part in the doctor-patient relationship.

Thank you, Carol...and thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for these tips. I've finally learned to write down everything I need to ask when I'm there. Only took me 40 years.

Well, Jane, at least you learned...some people never do. Doesn't it feel empowering?

Thank you for this. It's so easy to get passive and careless -- then blame the doctor.

True, Ruth. We need to take charge and not assume the doctor will realize what we need; we have a voice~!

Given how little time, it's important to ask the important questions first!

You are so right, Irene. There is never enough time to get to everything.

Most of the women have issues in communicating with the doctors, but it is very important that we share each and every health issue we have with our doctor, only then the doctor can diagnosis us correctly. Thanks for the tips to improve communicating with doctor. ICD 10 Coding

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I was super sick I was just waiting to die I lost total faith in doctors I had seen over 60 doctors 100’s of test’s and over 200 visits to clinic or hospital . For dizziness, nausea , dry heaves, weight loss, rash, heart palpitations, blurred vision, tremors, brain pressure and brain fog, and extreme fatigue, I was offered anti-depressants a few times, which is silly . I was not depressed I was desperate because I was dying! It took over two years before I was diagnosed by a doctor that is an MD, and a Chinese medicine doctor and a naturopathic doctor that was in private practice and he ran his own show. had you meet with a nutritionists before you walked out the door. Patients were on waiting list a mile long to see him He diagnosed me by the second visit with mycotoxins poisoning , which is black mold poisoning I did not even know this was hidden in our newer house, He was curing people left and right, This is doctor is worked on cases that the medical university could not figure out and he would figure it out This doctor maybe is one in thousand maybe one in ten thousand . I have a family member that is doctor in a prestigious facility and I can say this the stress level and the patient load is insane, and many of the doctors there are not thrilled, because they are overworked how can you do your job when more patients means more money for the people at the top and the doctors are buried in red tape. I would rather go to see a naturopathic doctor any day, I have noticed this they always are slim, look super healthy looking, and take the time to listen to you and talk with you, are compassionate and caring, you never ever feel rushed. Of course it is some serious trauma I would go to the ER I had a droopy eye I was given an x-ray and an MRI they suspected a stroke, nothing was found, I went to Chinese Medicine Doctor he cured me within 48 hours! It is these sorts of events that make you step back and think, and reevaluate some false belief you held that no longer fits the paradigm.


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