Barriers to good communication between physicians and patients

Seven Ways Patients Can Communicate With Healthcare Professionals for Better Treatment and Care

How You Can Improve the Way You Communicate With Your Doctor to Get the Most Out of Your Healthcare

In our previous blog post, we discussed how doctors can improve the way they communicate with their patients to improve outcomes. When a doctor makes sure that a patient has fully understood their instructions, it increases the chances that the patient will follow their physician’s advice with the resulting positive effect on health. In addition, good communication has a positive impact on patient satisfaction. This is even more important now that Medicare rules mean financial penalties for health care facilities that have low patient satisfaction scores.[1]

However, communication is a two way street. After all, health care can be expensive, so it’s in a patient’s best interests to communicate effectively with their providers to ensure they’re getting the best, most appropriate care. We should all take responsibility for our own health, and that includes making sure that we can express ourselves effectively during every medical appointment.

In this blog post, we discuss how you can best communicate with your physician to ensure you receive the right medical care and advice.

Why Communication Matters

When you have a good relationship with you clinician, it makes it much easier for you to take an active role in your care, for example, by correctly following treatment protocols. However, it has been estimated that as many as one-third of adults suffering from chronic illnesses are not taking their medication properly because of cost and then conceal this information from their doctor. Moreover, studies have shown that many hospitalized patients cannot name their diagnoses or what medication they are supposed to take following discharge, all of which suggests poor communication with their clinicians.[2]

Barriers to Good Communication Between Physicians and Patients

It is very easy to fall into the mindset of thinking that it is up to the healthcare provider to make sure their advice and recommendations are properly communicated, but the onus is equally on you to ensure that you have given your medical professional a full picture and are making it easy for there to be an open, informative dialogue between the two of you.

For example, it is vital that a doctor receives a complete picture about your current medical concerns and if you are taking prescribed medication as directed, as well as whether you have self-prescribed any medication or complementary therapies and any major personal issues that may impact on your treatment. Neglect to be open or honest about any of these aspects and you will make it much harder for your doctor to treat you effectively.

Likewise, you should remember that doctors are still just another human being, despite their medical qualifications. They are not gods and are not omniscient or omnipotent. They deserve your respect, but don’t be afraid to question any recommendations or pretend you understand what they have told you when you don’t. It is perfectly acceptable to ask questions or request more time before making a potentially life-changing decision. It is also acceptable to change physicians if you feel that your doctor isn’t listening to you. If you do not have a good rapport with your medical professional, it is worth looking around for someone who is willing to work with you to improve your health.[3]

How You Can Improve Communications with Medical Professionals

When you learn how to improve the way you communicate with physicians, you aren’t just benefiting yourself. Your communication skills will also impact on your children or any other family members you may be caring for, as well as other individuals you might be asked to support. If you can view your doctor as a collaborative member of a team, all working together for the best possible outcome, it will pay dividends, not just for yourself, but also for those around you.

1. Plan Ahead

Before you attend any medical appointment, sit down with a pen and paper and plan all the things you want to discuss during your time with the doctor. List out all the symptoms you need to discuss as well as any questions you might have and then organize them according to priority. You may only have time to cover three or four questions, so make sure you get the most important ones covered.

Once you’ve finished making your list, this will give you a good idea of how long you might need with your doctor. Don’t be afraid to book extra time if you think you will need it.

Discussing your medications and supplements with your doctor

Discussing your medications and supplements with your doctor

2. Bring Supplementary Information

Besides detailed information about your symptoms, your doctor will also need to know about any medications you are taking so they can advise on the most appropriate treatment that won’t conflict with any existing prescriptions.

Prepare a document that you can give to your doctor that contains details about your medications and any complementary supplements, the symptoms you are concerned about and when you noticed them, as well as any tests you may have had and information about other physicians you have consulted.

Having this information to hand will make your doctor’s job much easier. If they can see at a glance your current medical situation, they will be able to put together a plan moving forward that takes into account everything you may be experiencing.

3. Tell the Doctor About Your Needs and Expectations

Every patient is different. Perhaps you like to be the driving force, in control of every health care decision, going away and researching every recommendation before deciding whether to follow it. Or maybe you prefer to let your doctor make the difficult decisions for you, trusting to their experience and expertise to make the right choice. You might like in depth information about all your options before picking the one you feel is best or maybe you just want a general overview.

If you’re unsure what type of consultation would work for you, think back to previous healthcare interactions. What made you uncomfortable? What made you anxious? Understanding what works best for you is the essential first step towards expressing your needs to healthcare professionals.

Whatever your preference, let your doctor know so they can tailor the discussion to suit your level. In addition, you should tell your doctor about any religious or cultural beliefs that could impact on your treatment options.

4. Overcome the Language Barrier

While it may seem obvious to arrange for an interpreter if a patient speaks a different language to a physician, there can still be a language barrier even when both parties are speaking English. An incredible ninety million English-speaking Americans struggle to understand common medical texts.[4] This figure includes college graduates and professionals, such as teachers or engineers.

While medical professionals need to be aware that patients who are not immersed in the medical world won’t automatically understand words and phrases that are not commonplace, patients should also prepare themselves to overcome potential language barriers. You may choose to be accompanied to your appointment by someone who is proficient in medical jargon. You could write down any unfamiliar terms or medication names so that you can research them after the appointment.

You could also simply ask your doctor to rephrase their words in a way that you can understand.

5. Ask Questions

During your appointment, feel free to ask questions if there is anything you don’t understand or you would like more information about. Paraphrase what your physician has told you and ask if you have understood them correctly so that they can correct any misconceptions you may have. You should also ask about what your doctor is hoping to achieve with any given treatment as well as any expected side effects so that you can make an informed decision about whether you are comfortable to follow the recommendations.

Don’t be scared to say something if you don’t think you are being heard. It is important that your doctor understands what you are trying to say, so if need be, ask them to repeat what you told them to make sure they have a full picture of your situation.

Ask questions about your treatments so you can make informed decisions

Ask questions about your treatments so you can make informed decisions

6. Give Feedback

If you are unhappy with any aspect of your care, say so! Don’t suffer in silence – your health is important and if you feel that your doctor isn’t taking your situation seriously or isn’t listening to what you are trying to say, then you need to tell them so they have a chance to remedy the situation.

Likewise, if you love what your doctor is doing, let them know. It’s just as vital to let health care professionals know when they get something right so they can continue providing you with quality service.

7. Get It In Writing

Once you have put together a plan for your treatment, if you can, get that plan put in writing so that you can refer to it as need be. This may not always be possible, but even if you put together a simple email and send it over to your physician’s office to confirm that this is your understand of what was discussed and what you intend to do, this can help you to be certain that you’ve fully comprehended everything that was discussed.

If your doctor isn’t able to do this for you, another option is to make a tape recording of your appointment, with your physician’s consent. You can then refer back to this or make a transcript so that you can be certain that you are covering every detail.

Moving Forward

Once you’ve started to take an active role in communicating better with your physician, you’ll be surprised at the positive impact it has on your health care. Good relationships with your health care providers can make all the difference when it comes to patient satisfaction. When it comes to your health, you’ll want to be sure that you’ve done everything you can to get good service.

If you’re a patient, how will you communicate better in the future? If you’re a doctor, how would you like your patients to communicate with you so you can treat them more effectively? We’d love to know about your strategies in the comments.


About the Author: Sophie Childs

Sophie Childs is an author and freelance writer. A mother of five, she's naturally passionate about healthcare issues, a subject she finds fascinating. She is relishing the opportunity to work with CIA Medical to share news and stories that impact readers in the medical and healthcare industries.