Boost Communication With Your Provider
Some doctors and other healthcare providers aren’t great communicators. They may not know how to communicate well. Or they may have good skills but lack the time to use them. But there are things you can do as a patient to improve communication.
Why improve communication with your provider?
Communicating better with your provider helps you get the high-quality care you need and deserve. It also helps you take better care of your health. This saves you time and money, and helps you stay healthy.
Improve communication with your provider
Ready to improve communication with your provider? Here are some things you can do before, during, and between visits.
Get ready before visits
Provider visits tend to be short. Make the most of each visit by doing some prep work.
Gather your info
If you’re a new patient, you’ll need to fill out a form — either in advance or at your first visit. The form will ask for certain facts. These include:
• Your contact info.
• Contact info for your other providers.
• Your insurance info.
• Facts about your health, such as health problems, drug allergies, and hospital stays.
• Facts about your family’s health.
• Medicines, vitamins, and supplements you take, and how much you take.
If you have any trouble filling out the form, ask for help.
Make a list of questions
Write down a few questions to ask your provider. This will help you remember them. Put your top questions first, in case you run out of time. Here are some topics to ask about:
• Side effects to medicine
• Test results
• Follow-up care
• When and how to contact your provider
Share your communication needs
Your provider has a legal duty to meet your communication needs. If possible, tell the office about these needs before your visit.
If you don’t speak English very well, ask for a healthcare interpreter. That’s someone trained to convert health information from one language into another. Ask for forms and other written materials in your preferred language.
Likewise, if you have a disability or other challenge that makes it harder to communicate, ask for the things you need to communicate well. For instance, if you have trouble hearing, you may communicate best with written materials. Or you may need a quiet setting and a sign language interpreter.
Invite a family member or friend
If you need support, ask a family member or friend to come with you. Tell them how to support you during the visit. For instance, they can give moral support, take notes, or ask questions.
Boost communication during visits
Here are some ways to improve communication during provider visits.
Tell your provider about any changes in your health and healthcare since your last visit. For instance, tell them about new symptoms or side effects. Mention if you became pregnant, started taking a new medicine, or visited the emergency department.
Ask your provider questions, starting with your top ones. Use the list you made before the visit. Ask any new questions that come to mind.
If your provider says something unclear, ask them to explain it another way. You can also restate what the provider said in your own words, then say: “Is that what you meant?”
Ask for written materials, visual aids, or demonstrations
You might find it helpful to get information in a few ways (not just talking). You can ask for:
• Written materials, such as handouts, websites, and notes.
• Visual aids, such as videos, pictures, and models.
• Demonstrations, such as showing how to use an inhaler.
Record key facts
Make a record of key facts from the visit, such as facts about your health problem, treatments, test results, and follow-up care. This will help you remember them.
Take notes on paper or a tablet. Ask your family member, friend, or provider to take notes. Or ask your provider if it’s OK to record the visit with your cell phone.
Make sure your provider meets your communication needs
Make sure your provider meets the communication needs you shared. Again, they have a legal duty to meet your needs.
Boost communication between visits
You may also want to communicate with your provider between visits. For instance, you may have symptoms or side effects that you’re concerned about. Or you may have questions about how to take a new medicine. Here are some ways to communicate between visits.
Call the office
Ask to speak to your provider or another employee. You may need to leave a message and get called back.
Use the patient portal
Ask if the office has a patient portal. If you have any trouble signing up for or using the portal, ask for help.
A patient portal gives you online access to information about your health and healthcare. For instance, you can use it to see:
• Medicines you take.
• Test results.
• Visit summaries.
• When your next visit is.
You can also send your provider a message through the portal. It may take a few days to get a response.
Improve communication with your provider
As you can see, there are lots of ways to improve communication with your provider. Try these tips today!
We extend our sincere gratitude to Carolyn Cutilli and Sophia Wong, for their invaluable peer review and expert feedback, which significantly contributed to the enhancement of this article.