GUEST POST from Don: How to Speak to Your Doctor


After recently reading an article in SELF about “5 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor”(who doesn’t pick up these magazines to mindlessly glance at the articles while sitting forever in the waiting room?) it occurred to me that it is possible that many people do not know how to communicate.  In pest control I developed a 5 question process to help customers express their pest problem (it was effective in helping ME understand their issues, and helped THEM express them).  I treat the medical situation the same way.  I KNOW what I want from the doctor.  I PLAN a set of statements about my situation so he/she will see the exact issue I came to them for.  (For example:  Doctor, “What seems to be the problem?”  Me, “My knee hurts every time I smash it with a crowbar.”  Doctor, “I prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine and that you stop smashing your knee with a crowbar.”)

See?  Easy.

The article was in the February 16, 2024 edition, written by Katie Way.  My carefully chosen comments will take far less time to read (article writers must get paid per word … I just want to communicate).

Here are her “tips:”

1. “Before you go to a doctors appointment, make a list. (Actually, make a few lists.)”  See my crowbar example above.  You should know what you WANT!!!  It seems obvious, but your doctor never took a course in mind reading.  Keep it brief and focused.  If you are that type of person whose mouth makes continual noise, but you never seem to get to the point … THIS is not the time to do that.  On the other hand, if you are the type of person who minimizes everything and you don’t actually mention the crowbar thingy…THIS is not the time to do that, either. Your second list should be QUESTIONS for the doctor.  Please!  Keep this one short and professional.  (Do not ask if he/she would like a blind date with your cousin.)  If you don’t understand something you should ask about it.  The doctor went to school and knows some things which the internet does not.  My grandmother, father and a brother all died of the same thing, which was weird since the internet said it isn’t genetic.  Good time to ask a question, don’t you think?  

2. “Bring a buddy.”  OK, I don’t think this is necessary for a normal check-up, but if you will be getting tons of information you need a secretary.  If it is about cancer, or other significant issue, you need a support system, preferably someone who can drive.  My wife is an excellent advocate.  She’s a bull-dog when it comes to making sure her friend gets the care she needs.  Sometimes you need that kind of help.  Take an advocate if you need one.

3. “Be the right kind of specific.”  The doctor doesn’t have time for a long narrative about you going to your cousin’s house the night before you had the symptoms.  Save that for your closest friend. The doctor needs to know your symptoms (knee hurts), when you first experienced them (Tuesday), and how bad they were (couldn’t put weight on it).

4. “Be honest.”  Well … hey!  If it hurt slightly more than a sharp pinch, don’t exaggerate and say it was the worst pain you ever felt.  If it was the worst pain you ever felt, don’t downplay it and say it was a sharp pinch.  If it is a follow-up, tell the Doc how the medication affected you.  If you couldn’t tolerate it, say so … there are often many options for meds.  I told my doctor that I couldn’t take one prescription every day or I would get muscle cramps at night.  He understood. My solution was acceptable to him.  Also, if you are confused or didn’t understand, say so.  I stopped going to one doctor because he had significant hearing loss and refused to wear hearing aids.  He never heard questions so he assumed there weren’t any.

5. “Keep in touch.”  She says you shouldn’t just ghost your provider.  If you don’t feel your doctor “gets” your problems, ask for a referral.  No doctor is equally good with everything.  You also will want a doctor who speaks your language.  For me, that is a doctor who doesn’t insist I use the “patient portal” for all contact.  Convenient for the doctor, not satisfactory for me.  Who is really answering my question … some villager in Tibet?  (My wife is the exact opposite, she prefers those gizmos.)    

“Remember, it’s your appointment,” Caitlin Donovan, senior director of the Patient Advocate Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides free patient advocacy services to people with certain chronic medical conditions, told SELF. ‘Take ownership of it—it’s for you! Go in with that mindset: You’re the boss.”
Dr. Donovan also says. “Break up with your bad relationship. You can have a doctor who’s great, but it just doesn’t work for you and whatever your communication style or needs are, and that’s okay.”

Don’t forget YOU are paying for this with your insurance premiums.  Get your money’s worth.

Now a few tips from Don:

a. You can choose your own schedule for ordinary appointments and sometimes for tests and small procedures.  I like Wednesday mornings.  I also prefer to avoid having several medical appointments in the same week.  It messes with my sanity.

b. Take your calendar with you.  Fine if it is on your electronic device, I guess.  In any case it should have ALL family events on it.  If you can’t do the follow-up on Tuesday at 1pm because little Johnny/Sally has a T-ball game just then, then don’t schedule it for then.  Eliminate conflicts through better planning.

c. Reward yourself.  You just did a good thing, so give yourself a pat on the back (or stop by that doughnut shop, if you must).  My reward is getting out of that creepy place which has no clocks on the walls and no windows.  Who designs that kind of space?   Attila?  I noticed that all the staff wear watches.  Just sayin’.  They know when it is time for lunch, I bet!

[PLEASE NOTE that Don is always open to discussing the thoughts and opinions he shares here and welcomes comments as shared in the comment section. He doesn’t use other social media platforms and won’t see whatever you’d like to share with him if you post it elsewhere. ~ Sherry]

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