3 Steps to Effective Communication with Your Doctor

As women, we often fail to fully communicate our needs, symptoms and lifestyle choices to our health care providers. Many a woman has omitted information about her health because of embarrassment, fear of judgment, or even simple forgetfulness. We may not mention a potentially serious symptom, such as unexplained weight loss, because we don’t perceive it as a problem. Many of us will also fail to divulge personal information that is actually very relevant to our health.

I’ve frequently fallen short of telling my doctor about all my symptoms. More than once, I’ve understated the severity of my headaches for fear of sounding like a whiner. I’ve also failed to talk to my practitioners about alternative health care practices, simply because I expected a negative reaction. But, every time this has happened, it has backfired and augmented my health problems.

A clear line of communication is essential for your health and for your relationship with your practitioner. Here are a few simple guidelines that you can use to maintain good communication with your doctor.

1. Bring a list.

How many of us have gone to the doctor, only to forget to discuss specific factors about our health? I recall one time that I went to the doctor to discuss both sinus problems and digestive upsets. I got so distracted talking about my abdominal pain that I completely failed to mention that I’d had severe sinus congestion. And, of course, my sinusitis went untreated because of my own poor communication.

As cheesy as it sounds to walk into your doctor’s office with a laundry-list of items to discuss, a well-thought out list is essential for opening the doors of communication with your doctor. Jot down anything that has been worrying or concerning you lately. Changes in symptoms, unrelated discomforts and recent lifestyle changes are all worth noting. Your health care provider needs all of this information to get a clear picture of your health.

2. Get personal.

The doctor’s office is no place for privacy. You are not the first– or the last– patient who will talk to your doctor about rectal bleeding, vaginal dryness, vaginal odor, herpes, bad breath, diarrhea, or low libido. As hard as it may be, it’s critical that you develop an ability to talk to your practitioner about health-related issues that concern you. If you don’t divulge this information, your doctor can easily miss an important diagnosis.

But just how can you learn to talk about such intimate topics with a virtual stranger? Your best bet is to start by discussing them with a close friend. If you’ve been having problems with your lady-parts, for example, call up your closest gal-pal and mention them to her. She won’t be able to diagnose you, but she’ll probably have a similar story to share. Once you recognize that you’re not alone in your experiences, it will be infinitely easier to discuss them with a pro.

3. Be your own advocate.

By taking a proactive role in your own health, you facilitate positive communication with your primary health care provider. Research any symptoms, treatments and conditions that may be affecting you. Although you can’t self-diagnose, it can be useful to you and your doctor if you have a clear idea of what problems might be affecting your health. This equals better care for you and less guesswork for your doc.

Personal advocacy doesn’t mean overriding your doctor’s orders or diagnosis. It does mean finding out everything that you can to help your doctor decide a good treatment course for you. If you find information that your doctor may not have– such as new information about an herb or alternative treatment– don’t be too shy to bring in a print-out of the information. Armed with your own self-found wisdom, you can take an active role in your treatment. Your doctor will appreciate your extra effort, and it will lead to better overall care for you.

Good health care is a two-way street. Without your active involvement and an open line of communication, your doctor can not diagnose or treat you correctly. By clearly discussing your needs and symptoms with your practitioner, you open the door to top-notch health care and general quality of life.