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How to Communicate with your Doctor


How do I best communicate with my doctor?

Dr. Karen:

I have been asked to see if I can help the members of the group to be able to communicate with their doctors better. This will not be an easy task. I did some research on some of the medical sites. And it seems that part of the problem it the teaching system. There are web sites and organizations to try and train doctor to be better communicators. I myself have ran into problems with physicians as a patient so I understand the frustration.

The first thing to know is that you have a relationship with your doctor. Like any relationship it takes two to communicate. The relationship between a physician and a patient is unique. It requires, trust, confidentiality, expectations, respect, concern, empathy and openness. As a patient you are asked to "tell all", you are asked personal questions that you might not tell you spouse or any other person in the world, but are expected to answer honestly. You are expected to take your clothes off, maybe after meeting someone for 15 minutes. You should be expected to help make medical decisions by being given enough medical information to aid in that decision. You are expected to trust that the doctor has your best interest at heart. And you are expected to follow medical recommendations.

What do you expect from your doctor? As each person is an individual that may be different. In some studies it shows that patients generally expect their doctor to encourage questions, show active listening, give health education to help make informed decisions, be empathetic, summarize the your statement(a way of showing that they understand your question or statement). The physician should talk on your level, address problems of daily living, discuss how your disease affects you in social relations and emotions.

In the best of worlds this will not occur each and every visit. You may be in pain and grumpy, the doctor may be grumpy. Many physicians are taught ignore their emotions. Many patients are afraid to confront their doctor. As a physician, there are many, many demands on their time. Probably more than any patient will know.

Life is very unpredictable, you could have someone needing admission to the ICU at any time. You get phone calls from other doctors, the hospital, patient questions that you may not take personally but you need to address with you nurse, prescription refills, and least of all the computer crashing(I am not saying this to make you feel sorry for physicians, just to hopefully be able to be a little empathetic). Many patients get upset about having to wait for their doctor, we try to be on time. Some patients need more time than was allowed, such as an abscess comes in that needs to be drained, it can not wait.

Or a patient comes in suicidal. Let the receptionist know if you have another appointment you need to get to, in my office we try to do our best to get someone out or let them reschedule. I try to have a policy to let patient know if I am more that a half hour behind so that the patient can make the decision to wait or not. May be you could take to the office manager of you doctors office to see if they could do something like that as well.

Patients also have much in their going on that a physician does not know about. Maybe you took 3 buses to get to the office and the last bus was late. You made arrangement for a ride and you are worried about the other person waiting. You have been having a problem and you have been waiting a week for your appointment because you knew you were coming in(I get that a lot especially with bladder infections). You have some question but do not know how to ask them. You do not understand medical terms and your doctor uses a lot of them. You can not afford your medication but are embarrassed to say.

Your doctor gave you a medication that you need to take three times a day and you just can not remember to get a dose in so you do not take all your prescribed medicine. You are on so many medications that some are with food ,some are on an empty stomach and you feel you fail if you do not take them like prescribed.

Like any relationship, communication goes both ways and with a doctor/patient relationship trust is of utmost importance. Your doctor needs to trust that you are doing your best and help you get around the hurdles and you need to trust your doctor with your hurdles. Many people do not like to confront anyone, especially a doctor. I have to say, doctors do not like to be confronted but you need to confront when it is appropriate. That is how you build on the relationship. I find that the times a doctor feels the most uncomfortable is when they are feeling insecure. They are not sure of the answer maybe or are feeling their judgment is being challenged. It is OK if a doctor feels uncomfortable, think of it as an opportunity to help develop your relationship. I have to say that I do get upset when a patient will listen to their hair stylist’s advice over mine:)LOL..

That happens more that you might think.

Not every doctor is made for everyone. We all have different personalities. When I was in medical school, I have classmates that I thought were jerks, then I realized that there are people out there that will get along with them. Not everyone likes me as a doctor and that is OK. You need to find a doctor that fits you personality and your needs. Just keep in mind that doctors are human too and sometimes need more grace that other times. Also think about organizing your visit prior, an let your doctor know what is happening in your life.

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