Have you ever walked out of a doctor's office feeling more confused than when you arrived? A recent study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine showed that most patients leaving the ER do not understand how or why they were treated. But it doesn't take a fancy study to prove what most of us already know. Talking to your doctor can seem like the equivalent of removing your tonsils with a grapefruit spoon, but instead of despairing, learn what you can do to make the best of your visit.
1. Be clear about what you want.
Doctors have very simple minds. They want to know your problem, think of a viable solution and give you what you need to fix it. So tell them up front what your problem is. You may have ostensibly come in for a wart removal, but if you are having chest pain, say something! Don't wait until your doctor is going out the door to mention it.
2. Don't be shy.
Nothing you say or ask about your body should make your doctor uncomfortable. They get paid to deal with your, um, sticky situations. Go ahead: Ask about that strategically placed rash. Tell your doctor about your sex life. These things are paramount to your health and well-being. If you find that your doctor seems uncomfortable, find a new doctor who isn't.
3. Ask questions.
Sometimes, face time with your doctor may feel minimal. It's not that they don't want to spend time with you; it's that they often get overwhelmed with tight schedules. But you must understand your illness and your treatment to take care of yourself adequately. Ask questions until you understand. If words don't work, get your doctor to draw you a picture. Get written instructions about your prescriptions, wound care, follow-up or whatever else you need.
4. Ask for clarification.
When doctors begin medical school, they don't know what the word "pericardiocentesis" means. But after years and years of training and practicing, they forget that the entire world doesn't understand. When you find your doctor speaking in tongues, say something. Don't just let them bowl you over with medical jargon. Ask what a serology test is; ask what a cystoscopy is. Otherwise, you'll leave without understanding your illness or treatment.
5. Bring someone with you.
Having a companion at the doctor's office provides moral support and can help you relax. Also, your support person can remind you of questions you forgot to ask and provide an extra set of ears to help you remember what your doctor said. This person may also serve as your advocate, particularly in a hospital setting, when you're too sick to speak for yourself.
6. Before you leave, make sure you know what just happened.
At the end of your visit, if you are unsure about the treatment you received, how to care for yourself when you get home, warning signs of drug interactions or when you should return to the doctor, be sure to ask. Demand it. Otherwise, your health could be in danger.
Good communication with your doctor is the key to good care and overall good health. So take that grapefruit spoon out of your throat and speak up. You and your doctor will both benefit in the end.
What to Bring
• Your insurance card and old medical records, especially if this is your first visit with this particular doctor.
• Your prescription medications with the doses. Bring a list or the actual bottles if you'd like. Also bring all vitamins and supplements.
• A friend. Use all the support you can get.
• A list of questions to ensure that you don't forget to ask anything.
What NOT to bring:
• Distractions. Leave your cell phones, Blackberries and iPhones in the car. If possible, try to leave the kids at home, too. This visit is about you.
• A bad attitude. If you take your frustrations out on the receptionist, nurse or doctor, you may be losing a positive ally. Try to keep your chin up.
• Webmd.com: Provides a good overview of many common and obscure diseases. Includes "Find a doctor" and "Find a hospital" links.
• E-patients.net and trusera.com: Connects patients with similar diseases so they can share real life experiences.