We grew up thinking doctors knew everything about everything. We expected (and usually received) minimal information about our diagnosis and treatment and we obeyed doctors’ orders unquestioningly.
But as we age, health issues become more complex. Many of us find ourselves managing multiple conditions. Ensuring we receive and understand the information we need means getting comfortable asking our doctors questions until we’re clear on the answers.
The good news is that the old ‘doctor speaks, patient listens’ approach has been evolving. Many medical schools now offer training in patient-centered communication that emphasizes a two-way dialogue with patients and encourages them to ask questions. According to Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright, president and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association, “The role of the physician used to be … the receptacle of all medical knowledge. That has changed. We know that when there is trust and communication in the relationship, the outcomes are significantly better.”
Here are some suggestions on how to get the information you need from your doctor:
- Bring a list of questions and concerns, in order of importance
- Let the doctor know you need time to take a few notes during your appointment to ensure you remember important details
- Report any life or health changes since your last visit, such as changes in appetite, weight or sleep
- Request an explanation of medical terms you don’t understand, or when instructions aren’t clear
- If necessary, ask the doctor to speak more loudly
- Ask for details, such as: What may have caused this condition? Is it permanent? How is this treated or managed? What will be the long-term effects?
Now is the time to change the old ‘doctor knows best’ dynamic, and work as a team to build optimal health.