How to Talk to Your Doctor

The Commonwealth Fund’s 2008 International Health Policy Survey reported that in the U.S.:

38% of study participants left the doctor’s office without getting important questions answered.

Only 53% said their doctor involved them in treatment option decisions. 41% said their doctor had not reviewed their list of medications in more than two years.

Each of the above problems can bring about serious health consequences. How do your plan members compare with these statistics? Is there a potential drug interaction crisis looming, with the potential to create an outlier cost for your company to bear? Below are a few tips you can share with your plan members to encourage open and detailed communication with their doctors.

Write down the names and the dosage of all the medications you take. Although you might feel that you have your medications memorized, it is not uncommon to confuse bits of data when you’re trying to pass the information along to your doctor. It is better to hand the doctor a written list so that he can quickly extract the data he needs.

Before you visit the doctor, think about topics you would like to discuss during this visit. For example, if you were diagnosed previously with high blood pressure, your doctor might have asked you to reduce salt intake, exercise more, quit smoking, and take an anti-hypertensive medication. Since he will be curious about your progress, make notes of what you plan to tell him.

Make a list of questions you would like to ask the doctor. You will be more able to think clearly about questions in the comfort of your home, than when you are sitting on an exam table and wearing a paper gown.

Arrive on time for your appointment. If you are anxious because you’re late, and the doctor is aggravated that he is running behind schedule, the lines of communication might not be open.

Be aware that your doctor is neither a miracle worker with a perfect solution to every problem; nor is he an adversary purposely ignoring your needs. He is a highly trained professional using his best judgment to guide you in both treatment options and preventive care. If you feel he is veering off course, speak up and be involved in guiding the conversation.

Don’t be discouraged if the doctor refers you to a nurse or physician’s assistant. These professionals are also highly trained and will often spend significant time explaining medical information to you.

Jot down new instructions as well as answers to your questions. It can be difficult to remember all that is said during an office visit, especially if you received unexpected news or information.

If you get home and realize you are confused about the doctor’s instructions, don’t hesitate to call the office. It is far better to get the information straight in your mind, than to make errors in your care or medication routine.

Pay your doctor bills. A medical office is a business, and if you fail to pay your bills, your relationship with your doctor can suffer. Overall, remind your members to be active partners with their doctors as they pursue both medical treatments and preventive healthcare.
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