Having open and understanding conversations with your doctor is an important part of your health care experience, but many of us struggle to find the right way to discuss important medical issues or understand what our doctors are telling us about prognosis and treatment concerns. In order to smooth over these barriers to understanding, we need to focus on not just what gets said in the doctor’s office, but also how it gets said. Changing the medium of communication or adding supplemental formats can make a big difference.
If you’re struggling to understand your health issues, consider integrating one of these 3 strategies into your next appointment. You may be surprised how much more information you retain.
Put It In Writing
Before your next doctor’s appointment, think about any questions you’re going in with and write them down. Then prioritize that list to make sure you get answers to the most pressing questions. You should also write the answers down and then review what you’ve written with your provider. You should be able to parrot back what you’ve been told in your own words if you really understand what’s been said.
If you have a hard time listening and writing at the same time, wait a little while after your appointment and then email your doctor. Try to tell them what you understood from the appointment and ask for clarification if you’ve made any mistakes. You’ll then have a written record of what you heard to hold onto. Do be aware that you doctor may not be able to email you back if they aren’t using a fully encrypted system due to HIPAA regulations. You may need to write you doctor via a patient portal platform instead.
Bring A Friend
Sometimes two people hear the same thing and interpret it in different ways, or two people hear the same conversation and can help each other fill in anything they might have missed. That’s why having a second person come to your medical appointments can be very helpful – afterward you can ask them to help you remember what you were told or ask them to write down the instructions while you listen if you struggle to do both at the same time or have a poor memory.
Consider A Second Opinion
When you don’t understand what your doctor is telling you, there may be a few different issues at hand. In some cases, you and your doctor may simply have different communication styles, and hearing similar information in different language can help you interpret the content more easily. In other cases, your doctor may have their own uncertainties that are conveyed in their discussion.
Either way, talk to your doctor about getting a second opinion, particularly when something serious is occurring with your health. A different doctor may be able to confirm your treatment plan and clarify it, or you may find that your provider isn’t right for you when you see how easily you communicate with another practitioner.
For those without a medical background, managing health issues can be a challenge, but clear communication can help make the process easier. Before your next appointment, tune in to your own learning style and see how you can bring that perspective into the office. Your doctor should be able to meet you with appropriate information and clarity no matter the format of presentation.