Amanda Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Practitioner

Communicating with your doctor, whether they be a psychiatrist, a primary care physician, or a specialist, can be difficult in this fast-paced health care climate. Nirmal Joshi, chief medical officer of PinnacleHealth, reported that patients’ chances of having their doctor’s undivided attention have decreased due to increased documentation requirements. Doctors are now expected to record and keep track of more information than ever before, and they are rarely given additional time to do so. Your ability to communicate clearly and concisely can help to ensure that your doctors get the information they need to provide you with the best care.

Here are a few tips to help you to communicate concisely with your doctor:

Prioritize your needs. What is your biggest concern? What are your most important secondary concerns? It’s important to decide what you especially need to ask or discuss with your doctor prior to the appointment. Some patients find it helpful to write notes so that they remember everything and stay on track during the appointment. Try to keep your list to no more than three items. If you need more time with your doctor, request another appointment.

Track your symptoms. Keep a log of your symptoms over a period of time before your appointment. This will help your doctor to see patterns, which can be an important part of diagnosis and treatment planning. For example, if you were experiencing anxiety and you kept track of your symptoms, you would have much more information for your doctor than another patient who said simply, “I’ve been feeling anxious.” Instead, you could say: “I’ve felt anxious about six days a week for most of the day for four weeks. I’ve had three panic attacks, and I’m sleeping about four hours a night.” Some doctors might find it helpful to receive a copy of your log, as they can then quickly add it your chart.

Be assertive. It’s easy to feel intimidated by doctors. Many of my clients have said that they don’t wish to interrupt or to appear too demanding, but doctors want you to speak up. Don’t assume that your doctor will ask you all the right questions; instead, tell them what you need them to know. Doctors are crunched for time and they appreciate direct communication.

Rephrase important information. When your doctor provides you with important information or instructions, rephrase and repeat it back during the appointment to confirm that you understand. For example, you could say: “Let me make sure I understand. You want to consider a medication for anxiety in three months, but in the meantime, you want me to continue to track my anxiety symptoms, and you recommend that I see a counselor. Is that correct?” If you are unsure about which information is the most important, you should ask your doctor, “What do you want me to remember from this appointment?”

Communicate between appointments. You don’t always have to wait until your next appointment to communicate with your doctor. If you have a concern that needs to be addressed sooner or you find that you need further clarification, you should call, email, or use the online patient portal if your doctor has one. Nurses and office staff are often available to pass messages to your doctor and follow up with you. Joshi states that he knows many physicians who love to communicate with their patients by email. Ask your doctor what type of communication they prefer to have with you between appointments.

Doctors are busier than ever, appointments often seem too short, and concise communication with your doctor can be difficult. If you need help to improve your communication, or if your doctor has recommended that you participate in counseling, contact Symmetry Counseling to schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable counselors.

Renter, E. (2015, March 3). How to talk so your doctor will listen. [Blog post] Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/03/03/how-to-talk-so-your-doctor-will-listen