The complicated medical terminology and healthcare system make a trip to the doctor’s office tricky.  It can be extremely frustrating walking out from an appointment more confused about what to do next than you were before. Just like with any other relationship, miscommunication and confusion can have serious consequences. Especially when dealing with health issues, poor communication between a patient and doctor is not only annoying, but also potentially dangerous—It’s important that both you and your doctor are on the same page when it comes to managing your personal health.

Studies have shown that poor communication has been linked to worse health outcomes.  These findings of these studies can be summed up as this – When there is a failure to communicate, you can get more sick and for a longer period of time.  On the flip side, better communication between patients and doctors has been shown to have a lot of benefits—more accurate diagnoses, faster recovery, enhanced mental health!

On average, a doctor will spend 17 minutes during an appointment with a patient.  Odds are you have spent that much time just doing the paperwork.  How can you make the most of your time and walk away with a better understanding of what you need to do next?  Visits to the doctor do not have to be a one-sided conversation.  More and more research shows that the patient can also influence how these consultations proceed and the quality of information exchanged.

The more engaged you are, the more the doctor will be able to understand your concerns and goals.  Being more active in the decision-making process means that you can get better information so you and your doctor can address those concerns and goals.   Working to improve your health is a team effort between you and your health care team!

It is your doctor’s job to answer your questions, so don’t be afraid to ask—Your questions and concerns are important.  You can always start with the basics about your care such as:  What are my options?  What are the pros and cons of those options?  What will happen if I do nothing?  What resources are there to help me manage this illness?

It also important to remember that it is okay to ask doctors to repeat themselves.  Before walking out of your appointment, make sure to check with your doctor to make sure you got everything down right.  Clarifying questions can be very helpful:  Could you repeat that please?  Could you summarize what you have said?  Could you explain this in other words?  Could you please draw this out so I can see it better?  The doctor you are seeing on average has had 4 to 7 years of medical training and year(s) of additional job experience to learn all the fancy medical vocabulary—Asking and then asking again can help you and your doctor make sure that you both have accurate information.


The Bottom Line:

 “Extensive research has shown that no matter how knowledgeable a clinician might be, if he or she is not able to open good communication with the patient, he or she may be of no help.”  To learn more read, Impact of Communication in Healthcare. http://healthcarecomm.org/about-us/impact-of-communication-in-healthcare/.


By:  Madison Kim, University of Denver Student

© 2015 Colorado Black Health Collaborative
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