December 3, 2014

Six Tips to Communicate Better with Your Doctor

Just a week ago, I wrote about my fear of dementia. Estimates suggest that 50-80% of us Parkinsonians end up with some type of cognitive impairment.

And this week, I’m embarking on a new venture with a brand new team of doctors – a new geriatrician (acting as quarterback), a new neurologist, and a new end-of-life therapist. I described my enthusiasm for this new arrangement in yesterday's post.

Worries about dementia… new healthcare team…. It’s little wonder that an article published on November 30 in the online journal Dementia Today got my attention. It’s title? "Alzheimer’s and Communicating with Your Doctor."

After I read it, I realized the title really should be “Communicating with Your Doctor,” an issue of universal interest. The topic has certainly been front and center for me during the past few weeks.

During a recent initial interview with a potential new neurologist, she won me over when she asked me to stop babbling about tangential issues and just answer her questions. She reminded me of my daughter and my late wife: both assertive, outspoken women… just the kind I like.

That’s my main problem – too much information (TMI), too little focus, and way too many words. I know I must do a better job condensing and clarifying my thoughts with the members of my new healthcare team. It’s the most important thing I can do to help them help me. That... and becoming a better listener.

The same thing – TMI – frustrated my brand new geriatrician recently when I tried to tell her everything in a single email. She politely urged me to limit my communications in future.

I’m reminded of the advice a 10th grade journalism teacher offered a friend of mine many years ago: DELETE TO STRENGTHEN. I’d do well to follow that advice, as an 85-year-old with new doctors.

Here's are the six suggestions from that article about communicating with your doctor. They made sense to me; maybe you'll feel the same way.

When was the last time you left a doctor visit feeling satisfied that your concerns were heard and responded to? Successful communication with your doctor demands effective two-way communication. Here are a few tips to consider:
  • Make a list of your concerns. Start a few days in advance, if possible, to track symptoms or other concerns. Be thorough and honest; the details are important. Keeping the list to one page will help the doctor stay engaged. Mention your most important concerns first. Consider giving the doctor a copy of your list so she can follow along. This will help make the best use of the limited time you have for your appointment.
  • Speak up. Doctors tend to prioritize diagnostic information and core concerns early in the office visit. Make sure you make your key concerns known at the onset of the visit to help prevent the doctor from jumping to conclusions about treatments or dismissing issues you believe are important.
  • Listen. It is so easy to get rattled at a doctor’s visit that it sometimes feels like the appointment is over in a blink of an eye and all you walk out with is the blurred memory of a meeting and a prescription. Take some deep breaths and focus on what the doctor is saying. Bring a tape recorder and ask the doctor if she wouldn’t mind your recording the visit to help you better remember the information you discuss.
  • Ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask when words the doctor is using are unfamiliar or his instructions are not clear to you. Question the assumptions behind proposed treatments that do not seem viable in your situation. And above all, you deserve to know what the cost to you may be for a proposed treatment. Doctors’ recommendations are only as valuable as your interest and ability to put them into practice.
  • Don’t minimize the symptoms or situation. Remarks like “it’s just a little cough” or “my mother being up all night really isn’t a problem,” might lead your doctor to the same conclusion. If your real fear is that your sister’s lung cancer started with a similar cough, let the doctor know. If mom’s being up all night is preventing you from getting any sleep, say so. A few reassuring words, an appropriate test or as-needed sleeping medication can put your mind at ease.
  • Share your knowledge. The doctor knows medical care and you know family care. Share information with the doctor about valuable community resources that have helped you. The doctor and their staff appreciate patient recommendations. They, in turn, can use this information to help other caregivers and patients.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How about "Don't diagnose yourself on the internet before your appointment?" That's a big one we all enjoy, but reportedly our doctors don't enjoy it as much. It's right up there with the doctor's office cartoon that says "Thank you for not mentioning Dr. Oz."