Confused about how to talk to your doctor? You’re not alone. Most people don’t know how to have an effective conversation about sensitive medical problems. Here’s how to ask the tough questions and get helpful answers.
Your Doctor Isn’t Listening To You
The statistics in the classic study in the Annals of Internal Medicine are somewhat intuitive: patients were allowed to finish their “opening statement of concerns” in roughly 23 percent of cases (doctor visits). That means 77 percent of the time, you will never get to finish telling the doctor everything that’s bothering you.
A more recent analysis found that patients only speak to their doctor for an average of 12 seconds before being interrupted by physicians. Shocking.
Without being able to tell your doctor what’s wrong, you may not get an accurate diagnosis. This could result in anything from a delayed cancer diagnosis to the wrong diagnosis about something somewhat less severe.
Bottom line: you need to speak up and make yourself heard. If your doctor cuts you off, cut him back off and make it understood that you’re not finished. If he persists or interjects again, politely remind him that you’re not finished and you’d like a chance to speak so that he can evaluate all of the important facts.
If he’s still unwilling to listen, leave. A doctor who isn’t willing to listen is a bad doctor.
Tell The Doctor Everything
Make sure you tell your doctor everything. Most doctors who do listen to you want to know as many details as you can remember. Take notes about your symptoms and try to remember dates and times. They aren’t the most important thing, but they can help create a timeline of events.
Don’t hold back anything when it comes to your health. The fact that you smoke, or don’t eat a healthy diet or don’t exercise might matter a lot in your diagnosis.
Ask Questions And Draw It Out
Keep asking questions like “is there anything else which might cause my condition?” and “what facts might contradict your current hypothesis?”. It will get your doctor thinking and probably force him or her to delve more deeply into your current health challenges.
Many doctors do want to take more time to help you, but they are also pressed for time. If you aren’t proactive, they might assume you either aren’t that concerned about the issue or that you’re one of many passive patients who won’t follow the doctor’s orders anyway.
Be proactive, and show the doctor you really do care, and he or she will probably take more interest in you.
Provide Context For Your Doctor
Rather than getting bogged down with precise details, like times and dates, relate your symptoms to things that were going on at the time during your life. Dates and times might be important in certain contexts, but most of the time, it’s incidental.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t remember or write down dates and times things happen. You should. Just don’t get hung up on them or dwell on them with your doctor. Odds are, context (what else was happening at the time) is going to be a more significant factor in your diagnosis.
Mary Arzola has worked for many years in a public health role and enjoys being able to share her insights online. She has posted her thoughts across a number of health related websites.