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Why - and How - Should You Talk to Your Doctor?

Health Hub
Author name: Lee Health

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August is “Talk to Your Doctor” month, a reminder that clear and honest communication between you and your doctor can help you both make smart choices about your health.

Dr. Jaime Hall, a physician with Lee Health Physician Group, says clear communication prevents medical errors, strengthens the relationship between you and your doctor, and most importantly, leads to a healthier you!

“Good communication is an important part of the patient’s healing process,” Dr. Hall says. “Studies show that effective doctor-patient communication is a two-way street that involves trust, openness, sharing, and cooperation can lead to better health outcomes.”

Dr. Hall offers some tips that can help you talk with your doctor or healthcare provider and make the most of your appointment.

Prioritize your concerns

Because you’re the expert on changes in your physical and mental health, it’s important to know what you want your doctor to hear before your visit.

“Your time with your doctor is limited, so make every moment count,” Dr. Hall says. “Don’t be afraid to talk about feeling pain or about something that’s bothering you, even if you think it’s embarrassing. Your doctor wants to help you feel better. Remember, the privacy of your health information is protected.”

Dr. Hall suggests making a list of symptoms and/or questions before your doctor’s appointment. This ensures you won’t forget to address everything you want to talk about.

Ask questions

Do you have a new symptom? Are you noticing possible side effects from a medicine? Do you want your doctor to explain the meaning of a certain word or treatment?

“Voice your concerns and questions,” Dr. Hall says. “The doctor may not know what’s important to you, so bring up any questions or concerns you have. Ask your doctor for written instructions if you need them. Remember, you’re a partner in your healthcare with your doctor. The two of you are participants in your health and wellness. You should hold each other accountable.”

Bring a trusted friend or family member with you

Dr. Hall says consider bringing a family member or friend to your visit, especially if there are language or cultural differences between you and your doctor.

“Patients have better experiences and better health outcomes when they feel their doctor understands them,” Dr. Hall explains. “For that reason, it is perfectly reasonable to look for a doctor who looks like you or shares your culture. Sometimes this is hard to find, however. Every patient has the right to have professional interpretation services available whenever there is a language barrier, either through a competent staff member or through a third-party service.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for an interpreter, Dr. Hall adds.

“If you don’t feel comfortable asking for these services yourself, it can be helpful to bring a friend or family member who can help advocate for you, be a second pair of eyes and ears, take notes, and make sure your needs are addressed. Sometimes it is helpful to have that advocate to help think of questions or concerns that you haven’t yet considered.” 

Studies show that we typically remember only 10 percent of what we hear in a doctor's office. Dr. Hall says an “extra pair of ears” can help you remember different parts of the conversation or help clarify information for accuracy.

Take notes during your appointment

Write down a list of questions and concerns before your exam, Dr. Hall advises.

“Taking notes is really useful, or asking the doctor to write things down for you is a great idea,” she says. “Maybe you don’t know how to spell the name of a medication you’re taking. Have your doctor clarify it in writing. The same with the names of tests or diagnoses. Get it all down so you’ll have the most accurate and helpful information.”

Also, ask about the best way to contact the doctor (by phone, email, etc.).

Know how to access your medical records

Many healthcare providers use electronic health records. Ask your doctor how to access your records so that you can keep track of test results, diagnoses, treatment plans, and medicines. These records can also help you prepare for your next appointment.

Lee Health uses MyChart, which offers patients a secure, online way to access their medical records anywhere and anytime.

What is MyChart?

MyChart offers patients personalized and secure online access to portions of their medical records. It enables you to securely use the Internet to help manage and receive information about your health.

With MyChart, you can use the Internet to:

  • Request medical appointments.
  • View your health summary from the MyChart electronic health record.
  • View test results.
  • Make payments and view statements.
  • Request prescription renewals.
  • Access trusted health information resources.
  • Communicate electronically and securely with your medical care team.

How do I sign up?

You can sign up for MyChart here. Have a smartphone? You can sign up and access MyChart from your smartphone here.

Don’t have a doctor? Get help finding a doctor here

After your appointment, if you’re uncertain about any instructions or have other questions, call or email your healthcare provider. Don’t wait until your next visit to make sure you understand your diagnosis, treatment plan, or anything else that might affect your health.

“You should feel safe with your doctor,” Dr. Hall notes. “That’s really important. If you’re not, perhaps consider finding a different provider with whom you feel comfortable. Finding somebody or a place that kind of reflects you and your kind of cultural background and your language is very important to your health.”

Picking the right doctor is a good starting point; the one you’re comfortable with is the ideal one for you.

Find a Lee Health doctor here.