But one thing that's often ignored, or forgotten about, is the importance of knowing how to talk to your health care provider. He or she is an important check in making those goals a reality.
Whether your visit is for a well checkup or something else, without good communication and an effective doctor-patient relationship, you're possibly missing out on getting the best care you can.
I think that many of us assume—often wrongly—that our physicians know how to talk to us. But the fact is that basic communication skills can evade anyone—even the most skilled practitioner. It may be that they're too rushed to sit down and have a focused and comprehensive conversation. Or, they may be brilliant medically but lack interpersonal skills.
There's lots of research to suggest that the quality of physician communication can positively affect the quality of life for patients, not to mention satisfaction with, and adherence to, their health care and treatment. We need not just an exchange of information, but also a good interpersonal relationship, with a hand in our own decision making.
All this adds up to better health: We tolerate pain better, adhere to recommendations, recover from illness and function better on a day-to-day basis when we have a sense of control, according to studies.
In the past, medical training did not spend much time teaching communication skills to budding doctors. And on the flip side, patients were taught to respect and accept whatever the doctor told them—to be passive and uninvolved. Now it's becoming more recognized that shared decision-making and a collaborative approach is an essential part of treatment and the road toward a better health care experience.
And yet, it can be both difficult and/or unrealistic to expect every health care professional to guide the conversation and sync with you on an emotional level to deliver the kind of care you seek. Learn more about 10 Important Steps to Better Communication With Your Doctor.
That's why we, as patients, need to take our responsibility seriously. What does that mean?
- Be informed—but be careful. There are so many wonderful resources out there to use to research your symptoms and conditions. Take advantage of them but do so carefully and skeptically. Use them to inform you but be careful not to self-diagnose or panic when you read something. Always ask your health care provider about what you've read, and ask them for additional resources. They know where to find the best and most reliable health information.
- Make a list of things to discuss. Many of us make daily to-do lists and lists for grocery shopping. Then why should a list for a doctor's visit be any different? Making a list—ordered from most to least important—can help you sort out your concerns ahead of time and ensure that you get those concerns and questions answered during your visit. It's too easy to get flustered or nervous and forget one or two things. Then you walk out the door and—wham!—think of those questions that it's now too late to ask.
- Add these things to your list. Write down the types and doses of prescription medicines you take. Mention any new medicines you have started taking since your last visit. And don't forget to include all dietary supplements and any alternative and complementary treatments you use. (You might prefer to throw all the bottles in a bag and bring them to the visit.) Also important are things like energy drinks or any special diet you're following, which can affect your health and the way some medications interact. And one more thing to add to that list: the names and contact info of any other health care professionals you see.
- Be aware of your symptoms. Your doctor will ask you when they began, what time of day they occur, how long they last, what they feel like, if they're getting worse or better and how they affect your day-to-day activities.
- Know your history. This includes not just your family history, but an update of what's been going on since your last visit. Maybe you've had a change in your sleep, appetite or energy level, or you went to the ER and were seen by a specialist. These are all important to mention and can affect your diagnosis and medical plan.
- Invite a friend. Sometimes a visit can be overwhelming, and it can be easy to forget or misinterpret what the doctor tells you. You might want to bring someone along to take notes or provide a second set of ears.
- Be open. If your health care provider asks you questions that you think are personal—like how your life is going—he or she is not being nosy. This information can be medically useful. For instance, a death, divorce, job loss or move can impact your emotional health, which in turn can affect your physical health.