patient, doctor, communication, patient safety awareness week

Your Health

Don’t be shy: Talking to your doctor can lead to better health outcomes

Mar 13 2017

Ever walk into an appointment with your doctor and feel nervous or anxious? You may not have told the doctor as much as you had planned to or you may even forget to ask the doctor question. Better communication and interaction between doctors and patients not only leads to better treatment, it’s proven to create more positive health outcomes over the lifetime of the patient.

“Good communication is very important,” said John Moore, D.O., FAAFP, Aetna’s medical director for the U.S. Northeast Region. “When there’s good dialogue, it puts the patient at ease and builds trust between the patient and his or her doctor. This also helps the patient communicate his or her concerns to the doctor in the most effective manner.”

Not feeling good? Ask questions

Feeling nervous during the first appointment with a doctor is normal, Moore said. Eventually, good rapport is developed and the patient feels more comfortable with expressing their concerns and providing useful information needed by the doctor.

It’s not uncommon, however, for a patient to forget to ask questions during an appointment. During his experiences as a family physician, Moore said he would tell his patients to write a list.

“I would ask my patients to write the questions they have down on a piece of paper before the appointment,” he said. “Discussions involving the first or second question can easily lead to forgetting to ask additional questions. Having a written list keeps you on track with what you wanted to ask.”

Physicians can also help encourage patients to talk more during appointments. A recent article by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) describes how doctors can work on patient-centered communication.

Doctors should ask open-ended questions early in the appointment and not interrupt the patient while they’re talking, according to the AAFP. For example, saying, “Tell me more about …” or “Would you like to talk more about that,” encourages the patient to interact more with the doctor.

It may help to think of your primary care physician as a close friend, Moore said.

“Your primary care physician should be almost like a close friend in regards to helping you with different things that you need to manage over the years,” Moore said. “Not only are they trying to help you manage active conditions, but also providing preventative care to keep you healthy.”

There are a few topics to consider discussing with your doctor, even if they don’t ask you about it. From how a person is sleeping to how they’re doing with relationships, the answers to these questions can assist with diagnosing an active condition.

Information and details won’t be shared by the doctor

Moore emphasized it’s acceptable to tell doctors private or sensitive details. Doctors, as well as their office staff, are not allowed to share the information with anyone else, he said.

“There’s confidentiality,” Moore said, “so whatever you share with your doctor, you can trust it stays between the two of you.”