Communicating With Your Medical Team

According to the National Institutes of health (NIH), today’s patients are taking on a more active role in their own health care.  Patients are working closer with their doctor to achieve the best possible level of health care.  A key element to this partnership is clear communication.  As in other areas of our lives, good communication is vital to ensure you get the best results possible.  Following are some tips to guide you in getting the most out of your relationship with your healthcare providers.

Often, people don’t fully prepare themselves for a visit to the doctor.  Solid preparation is one way to make sure you get the most out of your visit.  Research has shown that an important way to receive good health care is through good communication between you and your healthcare provider. 

Talking about your health includes sharing information about how you are feeling physically as well as emotionally.  Having a good relationship with your primary doctor is one of the best ways to ensure your good health.  This doctor is the one knows you and your particular health history best.  This doctor is the one who can help you make medical decisions that are in line with your own needs and values as well as guiding you in the selection of specialists or other healthcare providers you may need, such as home health or in-home care.

In preparing for a visit with your doctor, a basic plan can be helpful.  Make a list of the things you want to discuss and questions you may have.  List your questions in order of importance so that you are sure to address your most important ones first.  Think about how you will describe your symptoms.  Being clear and “painting a picture” for your doctor will be an extremely helpful part of your visit.

During your visit, make sure you fully understand your diagnosis, condition, treatment options, and any tests your doctor may want to have done.  Taking notes or asking the doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional to write down specific details can be helpful.  Another option is to bring a family member or friend with you and to let them know in advance what you want from your visit.  Not only will this person be able to provide you with emotional support, but they also can help facilitate discussions with your medical team if you need them to. 

You may find it useful to ask your doctor for printed material about your condition and ask about other resources for you to obtain additional information.  Be sure to include other members of your healthcare team such as nurses and pharmacists as valuable resources for information, as well.

An important aspect of communication with your doctor and other healthcare providers involves your medications.  Bring a current list of ALL medications you are taking along with the dosage (including over-the-counter medicines) to your appointments.  A recent survey found that almost 75% of older Americans use various alternative types of medicines and /or treatments (including herbal remedies and acupuncture) that can impact their medical care, and many people do not think to discuss these with their doctor.  It is important for your doctor or nurse to have a full and clear picture of EVERYTHING you are doing or taking to help guide them in managing your health with you. 

Being honest about your symptoms will help your doctor know which tests, procedures, and services are most appropriate for you.  Asking questions, clarifying anything you do not understand, and discussing your options will also make a difference in your care.  You and your healthcare provider are in a partnership together.  The goal of this partnership is the highest level of health and quality of life for you as possible. 

By taking an active role in your own health care, you are doing the best thing you can to ensure you receive the best care possible.  Good communication is one way you can become your own best advocate when it comes to your health and well-being.