Have you ever been at a medical appointment when your doctor says something you just don’t understand? Or maybe you think you’ve understood everything until you’re home, trying to remember your treatment plan with no idea what your doctor said. Lack of understanding in medical settings is unfortunately common, but it’s also a danger to patients. The key question, then, is how to prevent these communication gaps.
As a patient, there are several key steps you can take to increase your understanding in appointments and beyond. From preparation to post-appointment, try these 4 strategies and always ask questions.
Say It Back
When your doctor tells you something, it’s a passive process – you hear it, you might nod, but you aren’t actively engaging with the information. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help you understand or retain what you’ve been told. Instead of just listening, then, try repeating back the information to the doctor in your own words. If you can rephrase what you’ve been told, then you likely understood and you’re more likely to remember it.
Learn The Words
Doctors often use words we don’t understand, but we learn more common terms like bronchitis or colonoscopy through experience and context. Eventually, though, you’re likely to encounter terms you don’t know, say blepharospasm – an uncontrollable muscle spasm in the eye. What do you do then?
The first step, of course, is to ask your doctor what the word means. They really do want you to understand what’s going on with your body and they’re happy to answer these questions. You should also write the words down so you can return to them later if you’re still unclear.
One advantage to being a patient today, compared with many years ago, is that there are countless resources you can reference to improve your medical literacy. You can watch videos about your condition or treatment, consult a medical training glossary, or go onto forums and talk to other patients. By learning the language associated with your condition, you’ll feel more confident interacting with your doctor.
Get An Advocate
Medical appointments are stressful and confusing, and one of the easiest ways to relieve those feelings is by bringing someone with you. For older patients, it’s generally a good idea to bring a younger relative or caretaker who can provide ongoing support. You can also bring a spouse or a friend – whoever you’re comfortable with.
Rather than bringing a friend or relative, some people prefer to engage the services of a patient advocate. Patient advocates are trained professionals who can support individuals with chronic health problems with everything from communication to insurance paperwork. They may also interact with family members and advocate for patients who are incapacitated. Because patient advocates are trained to navigate the healthcare system but are also skilled at understanding the language of medicine, they can provide high-quality support no matter how serious your condition.
On The Record
Finally, some patients need information repeated or reviewed outside the stressful setting of the doctor’s office and one way to manage that is by recording your appointments. This is a great strategy for patients who have a hard time processing information immediately. By recording your appointments, you can also directly transmit a doctor’s instructions or prognosis to family members or caregivers, even if they can’t attend the appointment.
Don’t let your medical care overwhelm you. Sure, it can be technical and confusing, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, your health depends on clearing up anything you don’t understand. So ask questions, listen, and follow up no matter what.