Listen Up, Doc - Tip #1

After years of working closely with doctors to successfully manage my disease, I've learned a thing or two. Check out the tip below - hopefully, it will help you in your next appointment!
Tip #1: Ask Questions

The easiest way to assert yourself during a doctor’s appointment is to ask a question. In doing so, you instantly convey interest while elevating your doctor to an assumed position of authority (which he/she will probably appreciate). Even if it’s done intentionally, your query instantly sets a framework within which both you and your doctor can begin to work. Up until you speak, your doctor is left to interpret your head nods and strings of “uh-huh” the best he can. How is he to know those nods of confirmation are actually nods of confusion? Instead of misleading your doctor, clarify your level of comprehension by asking a relevant question. Even if it’s just repeating what your doctor has said in a question format, it will force your doctor to take pause and consider that he is indeed talking with you, not just at you. It will also appear that you’re paying attention and engrossed, further demanding that your doctor be precise and stay sharp, since his patient is listening intently!

*Do you get unspoken resistance when you ask a question?

Maybe you’re not asking your questions at the most opportune time, or perhaps your doctor already covered the information you’re requesting. In case of the former, ask your doctor when it would be most appropriate for you to ask your questions. Suggest, for instance, the beginning, the end, or mid-appointment, when the subject is actually being discussed. He may have a preference, and if so, it’s in your best interest to adhere to it. It’s a simple adjustment you can make that will help you get the answers you want while not disrupting your doctor’s flow.

In the case of the latter, perhaps you need to bone up on your note-taking skills during your visit. Take in a pad of paper and a pen, or turn to your notes section of your PDA to help. Jot down items of interest during the appointment, underlining a confusing word or phrase to remind yourself that what your doctor just said didn’t make sense or needs more clarification. When you’re taking notes, your body language, or lack there of, may also indicate what’s going on in your brain. If he starts to rattle off the steps you need to take before beginning a course of medication, for example, and you’re not writing anything down, he’ll take the cue that he needs to stop and review what he’s saying so that you can make note of the pertinent information. I’ve formed the habit of turning on my Palm Pilot, going to my notepad screen, and creating a new file or reviewing the notes that I’ve already made for that particular appointment before the doctor walks into the room. When he enters, he sees my Palm up and prepped for action, acknowledging that I’m ready and engaged - indicating that he should be, too.

*Does your doctor speak too quickly for you to take notes?

Take in your pad of paper, get ready to write, and when his pace begins to quicken unnecessarily, ask him to repeat and review. Soon enough, you’ll find a pace that works for both of you. Intuitively, he may begin to slow his words when there’s something that he needs to make sure you understand. If he accommodates you, make a note to thank him after the appointment. Progress and improvement shouldn’t go unnoticed.

*Don’t think your appointments warrant any questions?

Maybe your doctor isn’t in the room with you for more than five minutes, and you’re convinced there’s no time to get a word in before he’s on to his next patient. I promise you – if you show up with a pad of paper and a list of questions, you’ll get some air time. If you are limited on time, make sure you prioritize and ask all of your imperative questions first. If your list is a bit long to tackle in one appointment, don’t be offended if your question/answer session is cut short. Ask how it’s best to get the remaining questions answered before your next appointment: Could you email him, or is there someone else in the office you could talk to today or later in the week? If the questions aren’t urgent and you have to wait until the next appointment to discuss them, that’s okay. Just make it clear that during your next visit, you intend to have them answered. This can be as simple as saying, with a smile, “Okay, I’ll just make sure I ask them at the beginning of the next appointment.” It’s not a question your posing; it’s an expectation you’re providing. In that single sentence, you have diplomatically, yet effectively “managed” the situation. Just be sure to follow up at the next appointment: have your pad of paper out and ready before the doctor comes in, reminding him that you need to be heard from, and you plan on doing it today.
I'm sure I don’t have to explain that the idea isn’t to harass, inconvenience, or badger your doctor with mundane, irrelevant or inappropriate questions. In fact, it’s just the opposite. You’re trying to engage your doctor so that your needs can be met and your issues resolved. You’re looking to him for his expertise, wisdom, and knowledge – not to assert yourself for your own personal gain. The objective is to improve your health care, and if engaging in an applicable question and answer session lays the foundation for that to happen, jump at the opportunity.

You might find that your questions serve as a gentle, helpful reminder to your doctor, jogging his memory about something he needed to discuss with you. They could in fact prompt an entire conversation that might not have otherwise taken place. This happened to me recently, when my mother-in-law, out of curiosity, asked how my doctor planned on reducing a certain medication I was going to stop later that summer: would it happen all at once, or would I taper off over the course of a few months. In all of the discussions my doctor and I had about that particular prescription change, we had never really spoken of this minor detail, so I made a note to ask him at my next appointment. Sure enough, when I posed the question to him, he had a entire strategy planned out for how I was to taper off the medication. He and I immediately decided to start tapering off sooner than originally planned in order to account for the additional tapering time. I’m sure the issue would have eventually come up, but thank goodness for inquisitive in-laws to move the process along!


Just found you through Cameron Mills Musings, she's a childhood friend of mine. In any case have a friend who literally called me to tell me of a family Lupus diagnoses as I was clicking on your blog.

I'm going to share your blog with her! Thanks!
DC said…
Great tip! I always bring a list of questions (and a list of recent symptoms) with me to each doctor's appointment. Otherwise, I would never remember everything.

Thanks for adding me to your blogroll! :) Hope you're feeling well.

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