I need to know a patient's vital signs. Blood pressure. Temperature. Pulse. But another sign just as vital is communication. It's a two-way street. If I don't listen, I can't provide care. And if we don't communicate, your care could suffer. This is simply unacceptable.
As a patient, you're entrusting your life and well-being to me. If you don't know how to ask for a better relationship, just say "I need you to understand me better."
Be a partner in the decision-making process
Let's say I'm your doctor.
For starters, let me know that you're ready to ask more questions, like "Why this test?" and "Why that diagnosis?" Tell me you'd like to be a bigger part of your care, working as hard as you can to meet the goals we've agreed on - as a partner in decision-making and improving your wellness. Start by learning how to access your electronic medical records so you can be better informed about your care.
If I don't reciprocate at all, look elsewhere for a care partner. No patient should be misheard or ignored, or feel like they can't ask questions. Let my clinic manager know. Sometimes it's just a matter of chemistry, and that's OK. Although, you have to let me challenge you to be your best, which may not always be comfortable - but that's different than my not listening.
Prepare for your appointment
Next, make a list that details your current meds or supplements, the date of your last flu shot, any health concerns, etc., and prioritize your list.
Arrive a tad early and let me know how many items are on your healthcare shopping list. Generally 3 is an approachable list, but 8 are not.
If you've got one main ailment, prepare a little story for me with a beginning, middle and end. Let's say your hip pain started when you were 10 and fell off your bike. Fill in the middle of the story and get me to the end, where it's keeping you up at night, which triggered your call for an appointment.
Share your feelings, not just your health
Don't just share your ailments; share your concerns. What I mean is, are you worried that your kids will need a caregiver while you have gallbladder surgery? Doctors are trained to respond to concerns, not just ailments. Those concerns may expose a key detail necessary for your safe recovery. Some concerns can result in anxiety that we can address if we know. So please, share them.
And if you're facing a major health challenge, bring a friend or family member to take notes during our visit. You may be too pre-occupied to hear everything I tell you, and to think together about how we will make the plan work.
And please, if you don't understand my answers, ask again. The goal of our visit is not met until we have a mutual understanding.
At the end of the day, none of us gets well by only taking the medicine exactly right or completing the x-ray. We flourish when we are understood and cared for - that communication is an essential part of my job. Seek that relationship.