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How to Improve Communication With Your Doctor

Good communication is the key to working well with your doctor and getting the best care.

woman patient talking to her doctor

Today, with health care growing increasingly complex, everyone is expected to be more involved in his or her own care. This may sound demanding, but there’s an up side: taking an active role in your own health care helps your doctor give you the best guidance possible.

Just as doctors are experts on health and disease, you are an expert on your own history and your feelings and beliefs about what is best for you. Your information and your questions give your doctor important information about you. How well you communicate with your doctor during an office visit can have a big impact on your health. The following communication tips can help.

Prepare for your office visit

  • Write down your questions and concerns and bring them to your appointment.
  • Keep a journal of your symptoms. Note any changes in your weight or energy level. Include any new symptoms even if they don't seem important to you.
  • If you have a specific condition, list any treatments you've tried and what effects they have had.
  • Make a list of all the medications you take, or bring them to your office visit. Be sure to include any over-the-counter medicines, herbs or vitamins.

Communicate with your doctor

Bring someone to the appointment with you, to help you understand and remember what the doctor says at your appointment.

  • Take notes or have your family member or friend take notes. They will help you remember what the doctor said.
  • Share your notes with your doctor. Describe your symptoms and discuss your concerns.
  • Listen carefully. Answer his or her questions as accurately as you can.
  • Ask your doctor to check your current medications. Are the dosages still correct? Are all of them still needed? 
  • Be honest. If you aren't taking your medication correctly, say so and explain why. If you have concerns about a sensitive subject, talk to your doctor.
  • Ask questions. It is one of the best ways to communicate with your doctor. You will feel less rushed if you prepare your questions before your appointment. If you don't understand something, ask your doctor to explain. Here are some guidelines that may help.

If your doctor prescribes a medication, ask:

  • What is it for? What does it do?
  • When and how do I take it? For example, do I take it in the morning? Should I take it with food?
  • What side effects should I watch for?
  • How will it interact with other medications I am taking?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • How long will I need to take it?
  • Is there a cheaper medication that might work as well?

If your doctor wants you to have a test, ask:

  • Why do I need this test?
  • How is the test done?
  • How do I prepare for the test?
  • Who will perform the test?
  • Does the test have any risks?
  • When will I get the results?

If your doctor wants you to have surgery, ask:                                        

  • Why do I need this surgery?
  • What are the risks and benefits?
  • Who will do the surgery?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
  • How long will it take to recover?
  • Do I have other treatment options?
  • Will someone need to drive me home afterward?

After your appointment

Don’t forget, good communication is still important. Call your doctor if you’re unclear about any instructions or you have more questions.

By Mary Small, Contributing Writer

National Institute on Aging. Talking with your doctor: A guide for older people. Accessed: December 7, 2015.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Questions to ask your doctor. Accessed: December 7, 2015.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Five steps to safer health care. Accessed: December 7, 2015.
FamilyDoctor.org. Tips for talking with your doctor. Accessed: December 7, 2015.

Last Updated: December 7, 2015