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Talk to Your Doctor!

Doctors Aren't Mindreaders


Updated November 03, 2009

Take Responsibility

When you talk to your doctor, what do you talk about? Do you find it difficult to talk to your doctor? Think about it. Many patients don't share important information with their doctors and actually go out of their way to keep conversation light. If that's what you do, is enough being accomplished?

Remember, your doctor sees many patients in one day, handles calls from patients and other doctors, responds to emergencies, and likely gives time to pharmaceutical sales representatives. Though your doctor tries to make you feel like you are the most important part of his day, in reality, your doctor's time is limited -- you have to make it count.

  • Do you typically leave your doctor appointments without covering everything that should have been covered? Take some responsibility for that.

  • Do you usually answer, "the doctor really didn't say much of anything" when asked what your doctor said? Take some responsibility for that, too!

Patients are often advised to take notes or a list of questions to doctor appointments. Too often, though, patients are bound by apprehension and fear -- afraid to tell their doctor what's been happening because they don't want another diagnostic test or prescription. Some patients are phobic about anything medical.

Develop a Good Rapport With Your Doctor

Doctors are not all the same -- some are talkers, while others are more quiet. The same can be said of patients. Developing a good rapport with your doctor is essential. If you have a chronic illness, you will see your doctor on a regular basis for years to come. You must be able to talk and listen to your doctor. Remember, your doctor depends on you to share pertinent information. There are certain things that should be discussed each time you pay a visit:

Talk to your doctor about new symptoms
Your doctor won't know about them unless you disclose them. Tell you doctor about any new symptoms that developed since your last appointment. He or she will assess and evaluate the new symptoms and determine if they are medically relevant to your condition.

Discuss persistent symptoms with your doctor
Your doctor should know about previously reported symptoms that have not resolved or improved. Again, your doctor will assess and evaluate, determining if more diagnostic testing or a change in your treatment plan is needed.

Discuss test results
Be sure you review the results of any diagnostic tests you have had since your last appointment, such as blood tests and x-rays. Your doctor should review what came back normal as well as what came back abnormal, which may indicate reason for concern. Be sure you understand any abnormalities. If your doctor says your hemoglobin is low, ask how low and what that indicates. If you are given a number -- "sedimentation rate is 18," for example -- ask what that means. You can also request a copy of your test results.

Review your prescriptions and treatment plan
Every time you see the doctor, discuss your current medications. Do you feel better or worse after taking the medications? Are there any unpleasant side effects associated with the medications you take? Does your doctor think you should be taking a different dose of your medication, or a new drug entirely? Aside from your medications, is there anything else you should be doing, such as physical therapy, regular exercise, using a mobility aid?

Discuss how your condition affects other aspects of daily living beyond the primary symptoms
Joint pain is the primary symptom of osteoarthritis, but the disease can also affect your sleep pattern, mood, appetite, weight, and ability to perform daily activities. Discuss how your condition is most disruptive and what is becoming most difficult for you.

Get a sense of what to expect going forward
Ask your doctor what you can expect from your current treatment plan and what he or she would recommend next if the current plan fails. For example, if you've tried all conservative measures, perhaps joint surgery is your next option. Get your doctor's opinions on your options, should you need to consider them.

If you've reached a dead end, ask for a referral
If you feel you've tried everything, you'd like a second opinion, or want to know what a specialist might be able to offer, ask for a referral. Rheumatologists specialize in treating arthritis patients. Orthopedic surgeons also treat arthritis patients.

The Bottom Line

You should never leave your doctor's office not knowing or understanding the status of your health, what your options are, and what you need to do. Don't be afraid to discuss any medical matter with your doctor. Be afraid of the consequences if you don't.

Related Video
Preparing Your Toddler for a Doctor Visit
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