Most people think they communicate with their doctors just fine. Given that most of the doctor-patient communication consists of nodding or requesting a prescription refill, there’s little to find fault with.
But in reality, most patients don’t do a great job communicating with their doctors because they often give us too little pertinent information. Or they might give us too many distracting or off-topic details.
Being a smart patient is just as important as having a smart doctor. A big part of being a smart patient is knowing how to compare new evidence (such as new test results) against the old. Even though something might seem elementary and not worth asking about, you need to press on with your questions and your investigation. And that’s the key: knowing what questions to ask and remembering them.
Here’s our advice for effectively communicating with your doctor.
Take an advocate with you.
A smart patient enlists a friend or family member to act as a health care advocate: a supportive, reliable person who serves as a second set of eyes and ears in helping you get the best care. This person will accompany you to appointments, suggest questions to ask the doctor, prevent oversights and mistakes, help you understand and remember care instructions, and also keep an eye on you to make sure you follow those care instructions between appointments.
Your advocate will take notes in the exam room. (You can also ask the doc if you can record the conversation on your cellphone—we actually like it when patients ask that.) Preparation for surgery is certainly an apt reason to bring a health care advocate, but it’s an important move anytime you’re being treated for a particular condition or disease.
A friend or relative with a medical background who’s willing to help you could be a great choice. But your advocate doesn’t have to be an expert. It can just be someone to stand by you and help you communicate with your doctor. You want someone who’s organized and who will be a stress reliever.
Ask these questions.
If your doctor diagnoses you with anything, get the complete facts by checking off these questions. The answers will help you decide if you need a second opinion and will also be useful to the second doctor in determining exactly where you stand.
- How do you know I have this condition? How was it diagnosed?
- What does this condition mean for my overall health?
- Can it be treated? Does it have to be treated? What happens if I don’t get it treated?
- Should you conduct further tests to confirm the diagnosis? If you do, why are those tests necessary? What kind of side effects or risks do they involve?
- What treatment options do I have? What are the pros and cons of different treatments?
- What are the benefits of seeking a second opinion?
- How can I find out more information about this condition or disease?
- Who is the best in the world at treating this?
- Are there any clinical trials underway for this condition or disease?
- Where would you go if you had this condition and who would you see?
Related: How to Know If You’re Healthy Enough
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of SUCCESS magazine.