Five Steps for Talking to Your Doctor
As a primary care physician, I continue to put much effort into improving my bedside manner, so patients feel heard. The other reason is that, as most doctors discovered in medical school, a thorough patient history is essential to making the correct diagnosis 90% of the time.
It would be best to learn how to communicate your worries due to shorter doctor office visits and doctors interrupting patients 23 seconds after they begin. Although I don’t think people should be responsible for this, the truth is that not everyone has access to doctors with excellent bedside manners.
If you take these straightforward steps, talking to your doctor will be a breeze.
Set the schedule. Decide what you want to discuss before entering the doctor’s office. Are you receiving treatment, testing, and a physical as part of your visit? Do you have a recent issue that needs medical attention or a persistent problem that needs monitoring or more care? Tell your doctor at the outset of the appointment that you want to discuss four points, then list them without getting into too much depth just now. Make careful to say which one is most significant to you.
Instead of bringing up a topic towards the conclusion of the visit as you prepare to depart, bring up your most pressing worry first. This drives us insane and incredibly frustrated. This will significantly assist the doctor as he plans how long to spend on each issue and how to pace the office visit. It’s possible that the doctor won’t have enough time to treat your problem if you leave a surprise after the appointment.
Make a manageable list of the issues and queries you intend to discuss and put them in writing. If feasible, I advise addressing no more than four issues during your office appointment, mainly if the four are new issues that your doctor has never examined. The goal is not to cram in as many problems as possible in a session but to get the most out of the consultation by calling an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan. Quality rather than quantity is the goal.
Set the agenda first, then go into detail about each issue using the 4 W’s: When, What, Where, and Why.
Find out from your doctor which issue he wants to address first. You might also start by going into detail about each issue. Always describe your problem in the same way that you would describe a story. Beginning with the most recent event. Please give it a start, a middle, and a finish. This approach makes it much simpler to comprehend your issue. You’d be shocked at how many patients don’t start initially, even though this may seem straightforward. They ramble on about their symptoms in any sequence that comes to them and say whatever comes to mind.
Use the Four Ws – the when, what, where, and why – to help you structure your thoughts. The Four Ws help you improve your story by ensuring no crucial information is missed. If you forget specifics, your doctor might ask you to elaborate on or clarify them. The likelihood that the proper diagnosis will be made increases when you approach the office visit with your thoughts rationally organized using the Four Ws.
The when what, and where should come first. Lastly, state why.
When did you initially become aware of the issue? Tell us how the issue has evolved.
When does it appear to happen?
* When did you most recently experience the issue?
What: * Which practices, therapies, or actions make the issue worse, better, or remain the same? (this can include home therapies like taking over-the-counter medications, applying heat or ice, eating or not eating, going to the bathroom, movement, activity or lack of, etc., depending on the problem).
* How does the issue feel to you? What would you say about the pain? (i.e., sharp, dull, burning, gnawing, pressure-like, tight, achy, constant, increasing, comes and goes).
* What other issues or signs have you seen?
Where: * When did the issue first arise? If so, where did it move over time?
* Does the ailment or pain spread to other parts of the body?
Put the why at the end. You are in the doctor’s office for a reason, which is the why. While it may be evident you are not required to disclose this information, doctors may inquire if the cause is unclear. They might not, too. The reasons are numerous and individualized.
Why? Because I wanted to be sure it wasn’t anything serious, like cancer or a heart attack, and that I didn’t need to take antibiotics, modify my behavior, or cancel my vacation.
* The issue interferes with my way of life. My wife, husband, or other relative is concerned about my problem.
After completing your first problem’s description, go to the rest using the same format. Although it takes some time to consider how to describe a specific issue thoroughly, the benefit is that your doctor will have a wealth of data. The likelihood that he will give you the proper diagnosis and treatment will rise.
Resist the desire to declare that you have the flu or other diagnoses. Although it may seem like a helpful shorthand, doctors are highly particular with language, so what you mean may not be the same as what a doctor thinks the term means. Attending medical school is like settling into a new culture. Medical students acquire a new culture, language, and worldview over four years. Thanks to their unique language, they now have the clarity, comprehension, and resources necessary to communicate with their classmates.
Maybe it’s not shocking that so many medical professionals have lost the ability to speak naturally!
Instead of diagnosing yourself, discuss your symptoms. This does not preclude you from posing inquiries like, “Do you believe I have a pinched disc in my back?” or “Are you sure I don’t have pneumonia?” can express sentiments such as, “These symptoms make me think of the time I had pneumonia.” Inform your doctor if you have experienced this issue in the past. These comments are frequently quite beneficial. Patients with common sense understand that getting an accurate diagnosis depends on their doctors having all the necessary information.
Set the schedule. ……………………… a. A better diagnosis may result in fewer visits, quicker recovery from illness, and perhaps less needless testing and interventions, saving you time and money.
The award-winning book Be Well, Live Longer, Spend Wisely – Making Sensible Decisions in America’s Healthcare System was written by board-certified family physician Davis Liu, M.D. He tweets using the handle davisliumd and posts frequently at He earned his Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management. He graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine with a medical degree.
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