Have you ever come home from a visit to your doctor wondering if
you really understood your medical problem or how to take your
medications? In the past, doctors were in charge of your care
and you were to “follow orders.” These days, patients and
doctors have an equal responsibility for care. You have a right
to information about your condition and treatment and the doctor
has a right to an accurate accounting of your history and
According to the National Institute on Aging, here is what you can
do to communicate better with your doctor:
* Be completely honest about all of the medications you take,
including over-the-counter medications and herbal
preparations. If you have more than one doctor, be sure each
knows about all of your medications and other treatments,
since dangerous interactions among medications are possible.
* Also be honest about smoking and drinking. Doctors and nurses
are accustomed to taking care of people who smoke or drink.
They need to know if you have any habits that contribute to
disease or interfere with treatment.
* Your doctor may question you about a topic that you consider
embarrassing, such as sexuality, memory loss, incontinence, or
problems with your spouse or children. These problems often
have an influence on diseases or may be caused by taking
certain medications. Your doctor needs to know about them to
accurately diagnosis and treat your condition. Also remember
that the doctor and staff members are professional people
who will protect your privacy.
* Make a list of your symptoms, special concerns, medical
history, and current medications and give the list to the
doctor. Doing this at home before your appointment keeps you
from leaving out details.
* Provide the doctor with a brief, to-the-point description of
your problem. What are your symptoms? How severe are they?
When did they start? What brings them on? How long do they
last and what relieves them?
* If you are concerned about cooperating with the doctor’s
treatment, say so. Are you worried about the cost involved?
Does the treatment conflict with your beliefs and values?
Do the possible side effects of a medication bother you to
the extent that you are unlikely to take it?
Here are suggestions to help you get the most accurate information
and cooperation from the doctor:
* Ask a friend or family member to come with you. Take notes
during your visit, take a tape recorder to record the doctor’s
instructions, or insist on a written explanation.
* You have the right to an explanation of your condition that
you understand. Important questions to ask are: “What is
wrong?” “What is the cause of my condition?” “What are pros
and cons of treatment options?” “How do I know if I need to
call you or come back to see you?”
* If you do not understand the doctor’s explanation, say so.
If the doctor has gone on to the next patient, ask the nurse to
provide an explanation for you or provide you with pamphlets
about your condition.
* Make sure you understand the action and side effects of any
prescribed medication. Find out how often to take the pill,
whether you can take it during a meal, and any other special
instructions. If you get to the pharmacy to fill the prescription
and realize that you still do not understand how to take it, ask
the pharmacist for help. Pharmacists are expert at patient
teaching, particularly about medications. If you get home and
still do not understand what is wrong with you or how to
cooperate with treatment, call the doctor’s office and talk to
the doctor or nurse.
* Ask the doctor for thorough explanations of the preparation for
laboratory tests, x-rays, and other procedures. Results are
more accurate, and the test does not need to be repeated, when
you are appropriately prepared.
* Get acquainted with your insurance plan and how to access
care. Some doctors’ offices are set up to help you with
insurance matters, but not all. Bring your insurance card
and any forms that may be necessary, and be prepared to make
a co-payment, usually about $10.00.
* Remember that even the best doctor cannot cure everything.
You must do your part, too, by following these tips and
taking responsibility for your own health.