7 Tips to Improve Communication With Your Doctor

Clear communication with your doctor is crucial when discussing any diagnosis, health plans, medications and/or symptoms. Improve conversations with your doctor with these simple tips.

Improve Your Conversation

  1. When your doctor explains a diagnosis, explain it back to the doctor as you understand it. This will help make sure you understand the information correctly and allows your doctor to clarify, if necessary.
  2. If your doctor or nurse provides instructions to follow at home, repeat back the instructions to make sure you’re both on the same page. Again, allowing opportunity for any necessary clarifications.
  3. Take a small notepad with you, this way you can jot down notes and any instructions given. This will make it easier to follow and help you remember. You can also ask your doctor or nurse to write them out for you to take home.
  4. If it would be better suited, take a tape recorder or use a cell phone to record the instructions and information provided.
  5. Take a helpful loved one with you if able. A second set of ears can help explain and remember details that are discussed. If they can’t attend in person, they can also call in and listen through a speaker phone. Your loved one could then help provide additional information and ask additional questions that may be helpful.
  6. If you come up with additional questions after your appointment, you can always call the doctor or nurse to have them explain again or make a follow up appointment to talk through any information again.
  7. Create a medical history record to help keep track of all your health information. Use a file folder or expanding file system to keep everything together. AARP recommends you include:
      • Name, birth date and blood type.
      • Allergies (drug and food).
      • Medications (including dosages).
      • Doctor’s visits and dates.
      • Dates and results of tests, procedures or health screenings.
      • Information about any major illnesses or surgeries.
      • Notes about lifestyle habits, such as drinking, smoking or exercising.

This can help you keep an easily accessible record, answer questions your doctor may have and you’ll always be ready for future appointments.

If you aren’t sure what questions to ask, here are some examples.

    • What is the diagnosis?
    • What are the treatment options? What are the benefits? What are the side effects?
    • Will any tests be necessary? What are the tests for?
    • What will the prescription do? Are there side effects? Will it interfere with current medications?
    • Are there foods that I should or should not eat? Are there any activities I should avoid?
    • Is there anything I need to do before the next appointment?

The Importance of Good Doctor-Patient Communication

    • Good communication can prevent medical errors and reduce repeat office visits.
    • Communication is particularly important for older adults with multiple healthcare providers. For example, you may have a primary care physician, a surgeon and a specialist who all need to be kept on the same page. If you’re in a long-term care community or rehabilitation center, your medical team will also include therapists and nurses.
    • You are not alone, as all of these medical professionals are there to help. Your main goal is to advocate for your health and ensure your needs are being properly met.