Speak Up For Good Health

Communication is a two-way street; a two-sided coin. The receptive half is what goes in—usually by someone speaking to you, and the expressive side is your response.  Every human relationship depends upon communication in order for the two parties to interact and understand each other.  Family relationships, romantic relationships, work and business relationships all depend upon each party expressing themselves, and understanding what the other half expresses.

This is no different in your relationship with your health care provider.  And, unlike the other relationships listed above, your life may depend upon clear communication with your provider. 

After you have taken good care of yourself, the next most important thing you can do is to express yourself clearly to your provider, and to make sure they understand what you have to say.  This can be difficult in any human relationship, but in this relationship, it is also your right to be heard and understood, and to receive the medical care you need.

In this age of electronic medical records, many of us feel slighted by the computer. Many people report feeling ignored when the provider has their head buried in the screen.  This is not an ideal set-up, but as always, there are two sides to every story. 

The pressure to complete documentation in a timely manner is very real for providers, and some may feel they have no choice but to type while you talk.   This is tough for both sides, and there are no easy answers.  Most providers have sharpened their ability to listen and type at the same time, even if it feels as if they are ignoring the patient. 

If you are the patient, and you have more than one reason you are visiting the provider, you may need to prioritize those reasons, and ask for their undivided attention when you are telling them about that particular concern. 

“I know you have to keep documenting during the visit, but it is very important that I can have your attention while I tell you about…” An approach such as this may make it easier for both of you to take a moment to ensure shared understanding.  Acknowledging the pressure they work under may help put both of you on the same page.

The simple, yet complex act of listening can begin the healing process.  Showing empathy, warmth and concern helps the provider and the patient to relax and open up to a mutual understanding. 

Writing concerns down in a prioritized order is a very effective guide for the patient to initiate, and maintain an assertive manner during the visit.  This also helps the provider to understand the most important issue, and perhaps, which ones could wait for another visit, if the primary concern is a serious issue that will likely take up a considerable amount of time.

In addition, taking note of these variables of your situation may help:

  • Does it come and go, or is it always present?
  • Is it seasonal?
  • Is it affected by the time of day?
  • Does stress bring it on or make it worse?
  • Is it more pronounced when you are tired?
  • If there is pain, what is the rating on the 1-10 pain scale?

At the end of the visit, a simple reiteration of the patient’s concerns in prioritized order is an effective way to ensure that effective communication has indeed taken place.

“’I just want to repeat my most important concerns, and make sure I understand what you told me,” is another effective tactic.  Repeating back the advice and recommendations that provider gave ensures that you understood what they said.

Writing down your concerns is a very effective tool, as mentioned above.  Keeping a journal of your symptoms, doctor visits and changes in your condition helps to keep the information sorted in your mind, and provides a written history if you need to look back to recall certain information. 

Taking a family member or friend along to take notes during the visit is helpful, as it may be hard for you to recall all the information later to write it down.  They may also keep you accountable to speaking up about things you may want to leave out, provided you have already shared that with them.   Again, keeping a bound journal is the best way to keep an accurate record of your health history.  Electronic recordkeeping may work well for the patient too, but simply writing by hand is the most effective.  

Maintaining a separate written calendar of appointments and symptoms is an excellent way to provide a timeline of your care for future reference, as well as a means for the provider to see what other medical professionals you have visited, and when. 

Asking about side effects of prescribed medications is another important step in understanding your plan of care.  Your provider can explain these possibilities, and the pharmacist can, too.  Don’t hesitate to ask. 

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Sitting on crinkly paper in a loosely fitting gown in a sterile examination room doesn’t exactly allow for you to feel assertive and comfortable when you are the patient.   We all know this, but do try to remember that this is old hat for the provider.  They have seen it all, and there isn’t much that will surprise them.  Your modesty is your guarded right, but being mindful that this brief encounter in compromised conditions is necessary for your health. 

Finally, you are the customer.  If you truly feel that you could find a provider who listens better, treats you with more respect and seems more attuned to your medical needs, then you have the right to look elsewhere.  Good bedside manner is but one quality among many that are important in a provider, but it is the one that makes you feel well taken care of. 

Effective communication in the medical setting is your right.  As well as exercising for good health, be sure to exercise this right.