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The Importance of Good Doctor-Patient Communication


Updated April 26, 2014

Good doctor-patient communication is essential to get the most benefit from your doctor visit, yet so often the lines of communication break down or are never adequately established.

Among the reasons for poor doctor-patient communication are:

  • lack of face time with the doctor,
  • feelings of intimidation on the patient's part and
  • lack of comfort with the subject matter.

Communication is a very important part of getting the best possible treatment. What can you as the patient do to improve this process?

Communication Is a Two-Way Street

You might be surprised to learn that doctors are generally not given any specific training in how to communicate well with patients. A doctor's training concentrates on the skills of diagnosis and treatment, often objectifying the patient as a set of symptoms to be treated. Bedside manner is something learned by doing and some may never become adept at this skill. As the patient, however, there are some things you can do to help the process along.

Be Prepared for the Visit

Doctors today are often pressed for time. It is incumbent upon the patient to be well-prepared prior to office visits in order to accomplish the most in a shorter period of time. Like a good Boy Scout, you should "be prepared". Some steps you can take to get ready for your office visit:

  • Arrange your priorities for the visit ahead of time. Discuss what it is that concerns you the most at the outset of the visit.
  • Prior to your visit, review your answers to the following likely topics: your symptoms, your medical history, what you feel may be causing your symptoms (for example, a stressful event that has recently occurred), your current and past medications and treatments.
  • Make a list of any questions or issues that you have carried over from your last visit.
  • If you don't feel you will remember everything, write it down. This will help you stay focused and get everything accomplished that you desire.

Educate Yourself

Read everything you can get your hands on about your illness and its treatments. Ask questions. There is a plethora of information on the Internet. Just plug the name of your drug or condition into your favorite search engine and read away. Keep a pad and pen handy as you search to write down questions for your doctor. Print out relevant articles and resources for future reference.

Your Needs Matter

Suffering from unbearable side effects? You don't need to suffer in silence. One of the goals of your treatment should be to get you back as close to normal as possible. Although many medications produce undesirable side effects, such as sexual dysfunction or weight gain, the good news is that many of the newer medications coming down the pipeline do not. If side effects are a concern, have a frank discussion with your doctor about trying an alternate medication.

Provide Feedback

Doctors aren't mind readers. If a treatment isn't working, they won't know if you don't tell them. Nor can they help with side effects. One of the primary means a doctor uses to determine if a treatment is helping you is your feedback. Providing your doctor with complete, timely and honest information is crucial in getting you on the best medication for your needs.

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