How to Talk to Your Doctor

How to Talk to Your Doctor

By: Lisa Jernigan, MD

Dr. Lisa Jernigan is a Tallahassee native, and has been a member of the Tallahassee Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program faculty since 1994. Areas of particular interest to her include pre-natal care, global health, and HIV disease.

Your stomach has been hurting for weeks now, and you finally decide to see your doctor.  Following your visit, you fill your prescription, but are not sure the doctor really understood your complaints.  A week later, your stomach is still hurting.

What can patients do to get the most out of visits with physicians, and to end up with more accurate diagnoses and helpful treatments? If you are being seen by appointment, be as specific as you can about the problem with the person doing the scheduling.  “I’m having pain in my stomach” is not as helpful as “I’ve been vomiting for three days and I have a fever,” for example. When you call is also important. If you have had a problem for six weeks, and call the doctor at noon on Friday for a same day appointment, your visit is likely to be rushed and you may not get the evaluation you are hoping for.

Take time to think about the problem you have prior to your appointment.  This is a common conversation I have:

“Doc, I am having a pain in my belly.”

“What does it feel like?” I ask.

“Well, it is a hurting kind of pain.”

This is not very helpful to me.  Be ready to describe where the pain is, what it feels like, how long it has been there, what seems to make it better or worse, and any associated symptoms, like fever.  If you have had a similar problem before, discuss what was discovered previously.  This is particularly important when you are seeing a doctor who does not know you.

Once you have discussed your problem and been examined, the doctor will likely suggest a diagnosis, or further testing to arrive at a diagnosis.  If you do not understand the answer, or suspect the doctor did not understand your explanation, this is the time to speak up!  Your doctor is there to help you, and asking a question does not mean you dislike or mistrust them. Then, be sure you understand the instructions.  Studies have shown about half of patients leaving the doctor’s office recall the diagnosis and can repeat the instructions.   Ask for a list of your medicines, and possibly even your “problem list.”  Review the instructions with the pharmacist.  Then, monitor your symptoms so you can tell the doctor at your next visit how things are going.

Future columns will discuss how to get the most out of your time in the doctor’s office for health maintenance.  Working together to improve health can be very rewarding for both you and your doctor.

Comments are closed.