Patients who have good relationships with their physicians tend to have better outcomes. While this won’t change a patient’s outcome drastically, a recent study shows that it will change it in a statistically significant way – similar to how taking aspirin can reduce the risk of heart health.
Additional research has found that when a physician can communicates well with a patient, both patient satisfaction and adherence to instructions improve. With communication as the foundation to most relationships, focusing there make an awful lot of sense if the goal is a better outcome. So if you want a better relationship with your doctor, these communication techniques provide a great place to start.
1. Prioritize your conversation
Use your appointment time wisely. Your doctor may not have time to discuss everything on your mind, so have a list ready of the things you want to discuss in order of greatest urgency. Ask your doctor how many items they can get to today, and if you need to discuss more, agree to make another appointment. If you speak only about your top three most important medical concerns, it keeps you and your doctor on task. Straying off into personal life or advice from family and friends wastes valuable time – and sacrifices the focus and attention of your doctor.
2. Speak with confidence
Doctors are taught in medical school to convey information to patients with confidence – patients should do the same. So adopt a logical and confident manner, even if you are doubting what’s going on with symptoms or responses to treatment. It may help to bring your medical file to the appointment and even dressing nicely to appear more in control. Approach the visit as you would a business meeting – it will give your confidence a boost.
3. Try not to get emotional
Doctors are cognitive thinkers and many have said that it’s easier for them to communicate with patients who are not overly emotional, who stay on track, keep things simple and organized and stay on point. This can be tough if you are in pain or under a lot of stress with your medical condition. Just know that being emotional may impact your physician’s ability to listen to you. You may also find that if you can use medical terminology, your doctor listens to to more.
4. Share more than complaints
It’s natural to want to launch into a discussion of our problems – the pain in our back, the muscle spasms, etc. However, remember that it’s equally important to share your concerns about such problems. Your concern might be about the decision to have surgery on your back because surgery worries you or you’re not sure you can take the time off work required for recovery. If you don’t share your concerns, then your physician cannot address them. And they are trained to respond to concerns too – not just complaints.
5. Share your true feelings
While being vulnerable is not easy, keeping fears to yourself is likely worse. So if there is something about your health that is scaring you, bring it up to your doctor. Your physician is looking at facts, not fears, and can often reassure you that what you’re worried about is not likely or even be misinterpreted by you. If you’re embarrassed about a medical condition or about symptoms you’re having, make sure to select a doctor you feel comfortable with telling your story. And by all means, if you have financial concerns that affect the medical treatment your doctor prescribes for you, bring it up. Physicians can usually recommend less expensive alternatives.
6. Ask questions
This sounds obvious, but many patients fail to speak up when they don’t understand. At time, physicians speak in medical jargon that isn’t always clear to the non-medical folks. Be assertive and speak up. If you ask questions, most doctors will respect you for being invested in your care. So ask “why” if you don’t understand why a test/procedure/medication is necessary. Research shows that doctors respond more strongly if a patient brings up a question twice.
7. Make sure to listen
Even if you think you’ve read all there is to know about your condition or have a lot of questions that need answers during your appointment, make sure to hear what your doctor has to say. Be open minded to their diagnosis and treatment options. Allow your physician to educate you – even if in the end, you decide against what they recommend. You still owe it to yourself to get their expert opinion – and they owe it to you to provide it.
8. Leave with what you need
There’s nothing worse than leaving the appointment and still feeling confused. While it can be hard to speak up in your appointment to say that you don’t understand how to take a medication or what to expect as a next step, remember that you are responsible for your care. So make sure you leave not only with all of your questions answered but also having a good understanding of your treatment plan. Better understanding will ultimately help you be more committed to your doctor’s recommendations.
9. Take notes
Who can remember all that is said in an appointment – especially if there is a great deal of medical jargon thrown in? It can be a lot to absorb, so it’s helpful to bring along a friend, spouse or family member to take notes. Alternatively, you could ask your physician if it’s ok to record their advise (smart phones today have this recording options built in!). Or simply bring a notepad and jot things down yourself. Bottom line: we’re not human computers, so have a system in place to record the info you need.
10. Be honest if a doctor isn’t meeting your needs
Sometimes relationships just aren’t working. And it can be a tough subject to bring up. But even medical providers agree that it’s important to bring up. So tell your doctor when something isn’t working so they have an opportunity to work on it. If over time, nothing changes for the better, then you should feel free to find another physician who is a better fit for you. In the end, you must have confidence and trust in the person you are entrusting your health to.
Your relationship with your doctor really is in your hands. You have more control over it than you might think.
PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.