How To Talk To Your Doctor

Let’s be honest—talking to your doctor isn’t always easy. But good treatment comes from good communication. Here are some tips for getting the most from your doctor visit.

Doctors in the “good old days” ran the show. They did all the talking and made all the medical decisions. But today, good doctors want to have a two-way relationship with their patients. They want and expect you to play an active role in your own health care. Communication with your doctor should be a two-way street, where both of you talk and both of you listen. You and your doctor should be a team.

Take these steps to get the most out of your doctor visits:

• Before your visit: Make a list of questions you want to ask your doctor and all the concerns you have. Take the list with you. When you’re with your doctor, it’s easy to forget to ask or share something that might be important.

• If you’re seeing a new doctor, bring along a list of
prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take. Some doctors like you to bring all of them along in a bag.

• Plan to update your doctor. Let your doctor know what’s happened in your life since your last visit. Describe any changes in symptoms or medications. Also tell your doctor briefly about any major new stresses in your life, such as a death in the family or a divorce. These events may affect your health. Be careful to stick to the point, however. Your time with your doctor is limited. You want to use it wisely.

• Consider bringing along a family member or friend. This person can help you remember what you wanted to ask and tell the doctor. A second listener can also be helpful later.

• If you speak a different language than your doctor, bring along a family member or friend who can translate.

• Make sure you understand everything your doctor says. Ask your doctor to use everyday language and explain medical terms.

• Take notes. You can also ask your doctor to write down the diagnosis and treatment options. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget what your doctor said, once you’re back home, especially when the medical problem is serious and stressful. You can also ask if it’s okay to use a tape recorder.

• Be honest when you share information with your doctor. It may be hard to tell your doctor certain things—for example, that you’re still smoking or that you haven’t been taking your medications regularly. But you will only get the best treatment if you’re open and honest.

• Ask questions. Asking questions is the key to getting the most out of your visit. If you’re silent, your doctor will assume you understand everything. For example, you might say, “I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain that a little more?” You can also repeat what the doctor told you and ask, “Is that correct?”

• Learn all you can about your health problem. You may need to make decisions regarding your treatment options. You can do that best if you’re informed. Ask your doctor for any brochures or booklets that can help you learn more. Read magazine articles, watch television programs, and search the internet for information.

To download a booklet “Talking with Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People,” prepared by the National Institute on Aging, click on this web address:

Getting a second opinion

Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor that you would like to get a second opinion. Most doctors are comfortable with their patients getting another opinion. Most would prefer to know in advance, however, that you would like to get a second opinion.

A second opinion might be helpful when:

• You don’t need treatment right away.
• You still have questions or worries about your current treatment. • You have choices to make about treatment.
• A controversial or experimental treatment is recommended.
• You have several medical problems.
• You’re uncertain about having surgery.

How to get a second opinion

• Tell your doctor you would like to get a second opinion.
• Check with your insurance provider before you make an appointment. You should be certain that a second opinion is covered under your policy. There may be restrictions to what doctors you can see, and if you need a referral form from your current doctor.

• Find a doctor who specializes in treating your illness.

Questions to ask when you get a second opinion

• Is the diagnosis correct?
• Are there other forms of treatment?
• Is this the latest treatment?
• What are the pros and cons?
• What if I wait or choose no treatment? • What are the risks and complications? • What are the side effects?
• Do I really need this treatment?

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