Tips on Speaking with Your Doctor


Why do the two letters “MD” after someone’s name intimidate us?  Why is it that we find it so hard to ask our doctor questions once we get in the exam room?  Do we just want to get in and out as quick as possible?  Or do we allow ourselves to be intimidated by his/her education and knowledge?  We’ve probably all found ourselves leaving the doctor’s office wishing that we had asked a few more questions.  So let’s take a few minutes to talk about how to speak to our doctor.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would probably all admit that we need to take a more active role in our health care and that begins with improving our relationship with our doctor.  Let’s back up a minute, this is assuming that you have a doctor.  Many individuals just rely on a walk-in clinic when they are sick but if you haven’t already, you really should consider establishing a relationship with a primary care or internal medicine physician who can get to know you and your body.  So that must be step one.  After that, here are other tips to follow:

Ask Questions:  Once you have scheduled an appointment for either a routine exam or for a problem-focused visit, take the time to write down a list of questions and concerns before your appointment.  That way, when you have your physician’s attention, you will be in a position to have a productive conversation and leave with answers as well as helpful information.  “There’s no such thing as a dumb question in the doctor’s office,” says Dr. Matthew Memoli, an infectious disease doctor at National Institutes of Health.  “I try very hard to make my patients feel comfortable so that they feel comfortable asking questions, no matter how dumb they think the question is.”

Take Someone Along:  Especially when dealing with a complicated illness or injury, consider taking along a family member or friend to your appointment.  If you feel unsure about any information given by the healthcare providers, the other person can help ask questions on your behalf.

Prioritize Your Concerns:  Know that your doctor may not have the time to answer all thirty of your questions, so ask them in order of importance.  Dr. Nirmal Joshi, chief medical officer of PinnacleHealth says “When a patient prioritizes their concerns it tells me they have very specific health interests, and that they respect my time.  This allows us to focus on what concerns them most about their medical situation.”

Consider Communicating Outside the Exam Room:  Email or communication through a patient portal is becoming more and more popular as an enhancement to face to face appointments.  Many physicians are very open to this and it gives them the ability to communicate with patients when they have available time in their schedule.

The bottom line is: don’t be intimidated or rushed…set a goal today to establish effective communication with your healthcare providers.