Talking to Your Healthcare Provider

Your relationship with your healthcare provider should be a partnership to make sure you get the best possible care. How well you and your provider talk to each other is one of the most important parts of getting good healthcare. This means:

  • Asking questions if you don’t understand what your provider says
  • Talking about problems or concerns even if your provider does not ask about them
  • Letting your provider know when a treatment is not helping
  • Telling your provider about any new treatment or medicines, including supplements or home remedies, that you have tried since your last visit
  • Letting your provider know if the office staff is helpful or not
  • Letting your provider know about any trouble with office routines or practices, such as problems getting an appointment or leaving messages and not getting called back

What can I do to get the most out of a visit with my healthcare provider?

Although your provider might like to talk with you at length, time is limited for each patient. When making an appointment, tell the staff why you are making the appointment so enough time can be planned for you to meet with your provider. To get the most out of your appointment:

  • Before your visit, make a list of things you want to talk about. During the visit, stick to the points you want to discuss.
  • Always bring a list of all medicines you are using, including any nonprescription medicines and supplements, and treatments such as acupuncture or chiropractic. Tell your provider if you are taking medicines in a different way or a different amount than prescribed. Also, tell your provider if you are having trouble filling your prescriptions or paying for your medicines.
  • Take notes during your visit.
  • Get written information from your provider to take home with you. Sometimes it helps to ask your provider to write down some things for you, like the name of a medical problem you have or how the treatment will help. Ask where you can get more information.
  • Talk to other providers on the healthcare team. Nurses, physician assistants, dieticians, pharmacists, and occupational or physical therapists may be able to answer your questions.
  • If you have a serious medical problem, you may want to take a family member or friend with you to help take notes, to help you remember which questions to ask, or to remember what was said.

What questions will my provider ask and what questions should I ask?

Medical words may sound like a foreign language to you, and providers may forget to use words you understand. Ask questions when you don’t know the meaning of a medical word or when instructions are not clear (like how to take your medicines). It may help to repeat what you think your provider means in your own words and ask, “Is this correct?” If you don’t ask questions, your healthcare provider may think that you understand everything and that you don’t want more information.

If you are worried about cost, say so. Tell your provider if you cannot get a medicine because of its cost. Your provider may be able to help you find ways to pay for your medicine or other treatments you need.

Questions your provider may ask you about your symptoms:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • How long have they been going on?
  • Do you have the symptoms all the time? If not, when do you have them?
  • Is there anything that makes the symptoms better or worse?
  • Do you have more than one symptom at the same time? For example, do you have shortness of breath and chest pain when you are climbing stairs?
  • Do the symptoms stop you from doing your daily activities? Which ones? How?
  • How have you tried to treat your symptoms? Did that help or make them worse?

If your symptom is pain, then your provider may ask:

  • Is the pain new?
  • How you would describe the pain? Sharp, dull, burning, pressure?
  • How bad is the pain right now? At its worst or not as bad as it has been?

Questions you can ask about preventing health problems:

  • Should I get a flu shot, pneumococcal shot, tetanus shot, or other shots?
  • How often should I have tests to screen for cancer?
  • How will changing my diet help me?
  • Are there exercises I can do or some I shouldn’t do?
  • Is there anything that can help me quit smoking or quit using illegal drugs?

Questions to ask about medical tests:

  • How is the test done? How should I prepare?
  • What will we know from the test?
  • How will I find out the results? How long will it take to get the results?
  • If I don’t hear anything about my tests, what should I do?
  • Are there any risks or side effects?

Questions to ask about a diagnosis:

  • What may have caused this condition? Will I have it all my life?
  • How is this condition treated? What will be the long-term effects on my life?
  • How can I learn more about it?
  • How will this condition affect my family? Is it contagious?

Questions to ask about treatment:

  • When should I start treatment? How long will it last?
  • How much will the treatment cost? Will my insurance cover it?
  • Does the treatment have any risks?
  • What other choices do I have for treatment?

Questions to ask about medicines:

  • What are the common side effects? What should I watch out for?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Are there foods, drugs, or activities I should avoid while taking this medicine? Do I take the medicine while my stomach is full or empty?
  • Is there a generic form of a prescribed drug? Can I take that instead of a more expensive brand-name drug?
  • Can you prescribe pills with a double dose so I can use a pill-splitter to take one half of a pill for each dose and save money? Are there any risks doing this?

Questions to ask about changing your habits:

  • How will this change help me?
  • Do you have any written instructions about diet, exercise, or other changes?
  • Are there support groups or community services that might help me?

What if it is hard to talk about some problems I’m having?

Your provider can give you the best care only if you say what is really going on.

  • Don’t just say what you think your provider wants to hear. Be honest. For example, don’t say you smoke less or eat a healthier diet than you really do. While this is natural, it can affect your treatment plan.
  • Bring up things that are bothering you, even if it feels embarrassing. This includes sexual, emotional, and other personal issues. For example, let your provider know if you are getting a divorce, if someone close to you has died, or if you are worried about a family member. Physical health and emotional well-being are tied together.
  • If you are having problems, but aren’t sure whether it’s worth bringing up, ask your provider. If you often have trouble sleeping, constipation, or joint pain, your provider can let you know if it’s normal or not and if it should be treated. Problems with memory, depression, and bladder control are not normal parts of aging.

What should I do if I have problems with my provider?

If you don’t feel comfortable with your current healthcare provider, it may be time to find a new one. Your health is important, so you should find the right people to work with you to take care of it.

If you belong to a health plan, you may need to choose from the plan’s list of healthcare providers. Ask for referrals from friends, coworkers, or pharmacists.

Call the new provider’s office and ask if they are accepting new patients. Ask about office hours, payment policy, and insurance coverage. Set up an interview to meet and get to know the provider. (Be prepared to pay for this office visit.) This will give you an idea of how well you will get along with the new provider. While at the office, notice how the office looks and how patients are greeted. If you have a medical condition such as diabetes or heart problems, make sure that the provider can take care of your needs.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-03-04
Last reviewed: 2014-05-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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