Living with Chronic Pain

6 Tips for Communicating During Doctor Appointments


Proper communication with medical professionals is the most important part of receiving good health care. However, many people find it challenging to openly communicate with their doctor during an appointment. Six tips for communicating during a doctor’s appointment include the following:

  1. Create an outline. Individuals should consider their goal for the appointment and decide on questions and concerns they would like addressed. Prioritizing the questions and concerns increases quality time spent with the physician. Referencing the outline at the beginning of an appointment helps ensure that conversations stay focused and nothing is forgotten.
  2. Be clear and concise about symptoms. A physician is more apt to make an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment plans if they receive clear and concise information. Being detailed concerning symptoms includes: when they started, if they are constant or intermittent, how long they last, how often they occur, does anything make them better or worse, and if they interfere with daily activities. Embarrassing symptoms may be difficult to discuss; however, providing this information ensures a physician can establish the best care plan. It may also be helpful to remember that doctors are required to protect patients’ privacy.
  3. Be honest. It is important for a physician to know about lifestyle choices, social obligations, and relationships. Providing this information gives the doctor insight of overall well-being. Be sure to let the physician know of any major changes or current stressors. In order to build a good patient-doctor relationship, individuals should be completely honest with their physician.
  4. Ask questions. Oftentimes, doctors speak in a complex or technical manner. Patients can and should ask the doctor to repeat or rephrase something if they do not understand. This ensures that the doctor and patient are on the same page.
  5. Find out how the doctor prefers communication outside of appointments. Individuals should ask for a doctor’s preferred method of communication in the event questions arise concerning medications, test results, new symptoms, follow-up, etc. For example, some physicians prefer patients to send a message through an online messaging system, whereas others may advise to call and speak with a nurse.
  6. Directly address any difficulties with communication. If individuals feel unable to effectively communicate with their doctor, they should address this directly with the doctor. Stating, “I feel like I am not communicating this in a way that allows you to understand,” or asking, “Can we set up a time to discuss this further when your schedule is less busy?” are appropriate. Physicians also need to know if they are misunderstood. Confronting any communication difficulties is important in creating a positive and productive doctor-patient relationship.
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