How to Talk with Your Doctor
Being honest and transparent with your doctor will allow them to deliver the best care possible.
Discussing your mental health is just as important as discussing physical health. If you’re struggling with mental health, your primary care physician can point you to a specialist who can support you further.
Feel empowered in your relationship with your doctor by speaking up and advocating for yourself.
Few things are as personal as your health. Building a healthy relationship with your doctor is essential. You can risk a missed diagnosis if you are not honest about your health issues or habits.
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Always prepare for any doctor’s appointment—for example, a list of questions.
Below are a few common questions you could ask your doctor:
- First, it’s essential to ask your provider if they accept the Medicare plan you have – and if they will continue taking it in the future
- When discussing your care plan with your doctor, have a clear understanding of what you need to do next, e.g., which lab tests are necessary
- Ask for a printout of your personal care plan when you leave the doctor’s office.
- Ask about the best communication method to use between you and your doctor in case you have any questions or concerns between doctor’s appointments
- Talk to your doctor about pain. When describing your pain with your doctor, be as descriptive as possible. If you are vague in your description, your doctor may not address your pain correctly. Additionally, not only may your pain persist, but it might even get worse. If your pain persists for an extended period, bring it up with your doctor.
- Talk to your doctor about mental health. Although talking about mental health may be difficult, remember that it is a common problem amongst individuals, so you should not be afraid to bring it up with your doctor. If mental illness is left untreated, it can worsen and potentially lead to other health issues down the road.
- Talk to your doctor about something embarrassing. An excellent first step in bringing up an embarrassing issue is recognizing that your doctor is a professional whose goal is to improve your health. When discussing the issue, make sure to be direct about the problem, and don’t be shy about following up about it during future doctor’s appointments if the issue hasn’t been resolved.
Overall, the relationship you have with your doctor speaks volumes as to how your overall health is handled. Finding a doctor who you trust and also matches your personality and needs is the first step. From there, fostering an open and honest conversation with them during each appointment, and maintaining an open line of communication between appointments, will not only help you stay accountable and keep you on track with your care plan, but will also help your doctor make the best care decisions for you.
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Health literacy is the idea of individuals having the capacity to obtain, process and fully understand the basic health information needed to make the best health decisions for themselves. According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, low health literacy is more prevalent among older adults, so promoting and improving health literacy is important for this group. The more honest and transparent you are with your doctor, and the better you understand your personal care plan, the higher health literacy you will have, and the more confidence you will have in making your own healthcare decisions.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires doctors and staff to keep patients’ medical records confidential, unless a patient allows those involved to disclose them for a given reason. Patients do need to give permission for doctors to share records with other health providers. However, there are a few instances when a doctor may be able to share personal medical information without a patient’s permission, such as the doctor and/or patient needing help (i.e. if the patient has been injured traumatically and cannot make medical decisions for themselves), the government requiring patient information for legal reasons, or if a patient brings a claim to court.
Doctors are typically very genuine and compassionate people. However, if a doctor feels rushed, burned out or bogged down with administrative work, they may let their communication with patients fall to the wayside. If you feel as though your doctor is not completely present or not communicating well with you, don’t be afraid to speak up, advocate for yourself and let your doctor know how you feel. For example, you can let them know that you feel rushed, or do not fully understand their instruction or what they are saying. Most times, your doctor will understand and make sure they communicate more clearly. However, if you feel as though there is a pattern of your doctor not being genuine or compassionate, it may be time to find a new doctor. Having a doctor who you can trust and have a solid relationship with is essential for your healthcare journey, and you should feel empowered in finding a new doctor if your current one does not fit your needs.