What's Up, Doc?
Talking to your doctor can be difficult. Even though physicians are ideally all-knowing and without time constraints, that is not generally the case. Most doctors' offices are busy, loud, and out of time. You already know what this means for you: Once you manage to make an appointment, and weed through the paperwork and insurance information, you'll have very little time to actually speak with your physician. For that reason, it is vitally important that you be fully prepared to get right down to business.
Most likely, the visit is going to begin with the doctor asking you what brought you to the office, and then the ball is in your court. There are a few simple suggestions that will help you communicate effectively with your physician.
1. Come prepared with lists of your questions, symptoms, and the medications you are taking. This will help you remember what you want to talk about, and any important details.
2. Bring up all of your concerns early, before the conversation gets too involved. These can let your doctor know what "talking points" you want to touch on. It also relates information about symptoms and changes.
3. Ask questions, and try to bring them up as soon as they come into your mind. Again, when the conversation gets on one track, it's tough to remember everything you were thinking about before.
4. Don't be shy to bring up sensitive topics. Physicians are used to these things, and should never make you feel uncomfortable about them. If you can't ask a health care professional, who can you ask?
5. Tell the doctor everything that might be relevant. Never leave things out because you don't think they're important. That's for the physician to decide.
6. Be confident in how you are feeling, and don't let yourself get intimidated by a doctor that uses big words and speaks quickly.
Remember: The whole point of the visit is for you to feel better. If you know that you'll be speaking with a nurse or doctor that is often short, it might help to do a little research beforehand, so that you can understand what they're saying. Of course, if you ever feel that you aren't being treated with respect, don't hesitate to demand the service you deserve. Sometimes it helps to bring a friend or family member with whom you don't mind sharing health details, and who can help you communicate with the professionals. In addition to knowing how to talk to your doctor, it is essential that you know your rights as a patient.
There is an actual Patient's Bill of Rights that lets you know what is owed to you when under the care of physicians. These are the general areas it covers:
Information Disclosure You have the right to receive all of the health information you need in an understandable manner. This includes language translation.
Choice of Providers and Plans You have the right to select your own health care professional. Access to
Emergency Services You have the right to be seen and treated in an emergency room without prior authorization or financial penalty.
Participation in Treatment Decisions You have the right to know all of your treatment options and take part in your care decisions. You may select a representative if you are unable to do this.
Respect and Non-discrimination You have the right to be treated with care and respect no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic class.
Confidentiality of Health Information You have the right to speak privately with your health care professionals, and to have access to your medical records, which should be confidential.
Complaints and Appeals You have the right a fair, fast, and objective review of any complaint you have against your health care plan or professionals. There is more information about patients' rights and national organizations at the web site of the American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/mit/content/mit_3_2_patients_bill_of_rights.asp The health care industry can be intimidating, but with some knowledge and preparation, your experience can be productive and assuring.