Communicating better with your physicians

At UW-Milwaukee, I teach a graduate course on Patient-Provider Communication. Like all courses on this topic, it focuses on how physicians can adopt better communication strategies with their patients. I teach students who are future healthcare professionals that good communication is a skill (or an art) and obstacles to good communication include your own assumptions regarding the person you are communicating with, misinformation, misunderstanding, and language and cultural barriers. And that the most important factor that makes them a good communicator is their listening skills.

However, there are no courses for patients on how to communicate with their physicians. Most of us go to see a physician when we are in some form of distress, our state of mind is not the best, we did not take a course on anatomy and physiology to be prepared for the lecture we are going to get and most of all we are clueless as to what is going on in our body.

In this blog, I want to write about how patients can better communicate with their physicians. What are some ways that you can prepare yourself for an office visit and communicate in such a way that the physician will listen or understand you better.

  1. Be prepared – Your physicians are trained to work with data. They ask probing questions to get that data out of you. For example, have you been monitoring this new pain/ailment like she asked you to? Do you have all the questions written with you? Do you accurately remember how many times you fell or felt this pain? Do you remember the dates you felt this pain? Do you remember when this pain started?

  2. Think like a physician – Have you wondered what might be causing some of your health issues? Does it run in the family? Is it your own doing? Do some thinking before you go there. May be, you will find some clues that will be helpful for the physician to diagnose. Our body systems are so interconnected, that sometimes that pain/symptom might be connected to something else going on in your life – physically or mentally, that you did not at all think was connected. So, do some thinking and analysis before you go for your next visit.

  3. Ask questions – Don’t hesitate. A good physician will be interested in answering those questions. But, write down all your questions, so you don’t forget them.

  4. Understand that your physician may not have all the answers. Yes, our bodies are complicated and no one clearly knows why some people get sick and others don’t (case in point Covid-19). We have made great advances in research in terms of genetics, better and stronger drugs, and vaccinations. But, we still have not gone beyond scratching the surface. There is a long way to go. So, sometimes there may not be a clear answer, but you can probe more by asking - for example, "I read somewhere that this could be caused by such and such" – is that true?

  5. Write down your health goals and medical goals and show it to your physician so you and she can be on the same page. What is your health goal for this year? And it should include not just physical health goal, but also emotional and mental well-being goals.

  6. Empathy – Yes, you are sick, not the physician (and yes, he might be making a ton of money). However, your physician is there all day seeing one patient after another. They are susceptible to all the health issues going around in our community – we have been seeing that during the Covid 19 pandemic. They have stress, they have family to take care of, and they could be tired. So, a little empathy goes a long way in improving your communication.

At myHESTIA we help with the 1, 2, 3 and 5 above. More details about myHESTIA and how you can join can be found here myHESTIA and more info on how you can use myHESTIA for self-care can be found in myHESTIA Manual, accessible only to myHESTIA members.


Disclaimer: Please note that myHESTIA is an independent organization, we collaborate with local organizations that provide help and support for aging population.
The information contained in myHESTIA is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. myHESTIA DOES NOT ENDORSE ANY PRODUCT, DEVICE OR SERVICE, INCLUDING ANY PARTICULAR MEDICATION OR TREATMENT DEVICE.