How to Talk to your Doctor

by Sue Taggart

Talking with your doctor may not always be a two-way conversation. Many physicians are so time challenged that what was once a vocation has now turned into a daily grind, so much so that even a conversation is an intrusion into their packed schedules. Some physicians just want to do all the talking and have you follow along with whatever they prescribe regardless of your feelings on the matter. In order to become your own best healthcare advocate, the need for the right kind of conversation is essential.

Five Simple Tips:

1. Do your research.

That can mean anything from going online, to asking friends and family. Gather the information and put it in order of importance so when you talk with your physician you can be very clear and concise about what your concerns are. It’s not a competition, you don’t have to impress them with vast medical knowledge, you just need to let him/her know that you want to be involved in your treatment and want to fully understand the process.

2. Make a list.

You make a shopping list, so why not have all your questions written out so you don’t forget anything? It will help you stay focused and confident that you are getting the answers you are looking for. If you don’t understand something, ask for it to be explained again, as many times as it takes! It’s your health that’s at stake.

3. Stick to your guns.

Don’t be pushed into something that doesn’t feel right. Ask why a certain treatment is being recommended, if you have other ideas, then talk about them and explain where the information came from. It’s more difficult for a physician to dismiss your ideas if you have some research to back them up. If your doctor won’t take you seriously you may need to find a a new one who will.

4. Bring a friend with you.

If you are facing a serious health crisis, you may be too worried and emotional to even take in anything that is being said to you. A friend will help you go over everything when you get home. It’s OK to let a friend be a support system, a second pair of ears may hear something you might have missed.

5. Ask for a second opinion.

If you are not happy with what your doctor is saying to you, you can and should ask for a second opinion. Doctors are not infallible—they too are only human. Even if there is no mistake, if a second opinion or even a third is what it takes to give you peace of mind, then don’t hesitate—you have to take care of yourself.

After a really upsetting “conversation” with my gynecologist almost ten years ago, I decided that I did not want to undergo a major surgical procedure. My condition was not life threatening and I knew there had to be other options than surgery, so, I went in search of another doctor. Seven different doctor’s offices later, I finally found the physician I was looking for. Not only did she hear what I had to say, she understood my position and clearly laid out treatment options that allowed me to make decisions based on a mutual understanding of the desired outcome and the best way to achieve it. Surgery was one of the last options, which I was close to needing, but as sometimes happens, inexplicably, my symptoms subsided and I needed no further treatment.

Now, not everyone has the time, money or opportunity to seek out the “perfect” physician, but we all have a voice, it’s just a question of using that voice on your own behalf and the best way is to make sure you are prepared to have the conversation.

And remember to talk with your doctor the same way you would anyone else—don’t be intimidated by the white coat!

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