From influencers to world-renowned specialists to the stay-at-home mom turned public health researcher, everyone seems to have an opinion about what is right or wrong, especially for their health. When you want to substantiate the opinion with your healthcare provider, you may be met with resistance, frustration, or simple rejection of questions.
Good communication with your provider involves finding an effective communication style that works for both patient and provider. These five tips will help create a bridge to be heard by your doctor so that they can listen and provide their honest feedback to your burning healthcare questions.
Doctor holding hand
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Be organized. Always go to your healthcare appointment organized. Write down your thoughts in bullet point format. This way, you stay organized and do not veer off into an emotional tirade about any one topic.
We get it; we are all passionate about our health, and I am sure no one is more passionate about their health than you. However, remember a doctor is objective. They are not emotionally connected to the information or you. They must maintain boundaries to protect the therapeutic relationship. They often listen for clues, so the more concise your communication, the easier it will be to get your point across.
Drop the emotional upset. Remember, this is another human being. This is not the creator himself dropping down from the heavens to provide you with the ultimate wisdom. This is another human being listening for clues to offer their opinion. It is not an assault on you, your character, or humanity if they disagree with you.
I disagree with the keto diet; however, some of my patients practice keto. We can respectfully agree to disagree. I listen to their feedback and state my opinion based on their lab work. And that's it. No emotion. No argument. No battle of wits. Just an exchange of information back and forth. I remain open and they remain open. Simple.
Be curious. Believe it or not, none of us knows everything. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a farm girl, we all have value. We also have our perspectives, experiences, our training. If a provider does not provide the answer you were hoping for, ask why they think that way or see it. If they cannot answer it clearly and concisely, then you know that they might not be the right person to ask.
Ask your provider whether they have seen this before, had experience with this before, or had training about this. Ask questions instead of assuming. Not every doctor is trained and experienced in everything, so they may or may not know what you are discussing with them.
Keep an open mind. Doctors may not tell you what you want to hear. Sometimes we have to tell you things you do not want to hear. Try to breathe through the experience, even if it feels like a rocket hit from a neighboring tribe. Instead, take a breath, affirm that you are safe, and ask for further clarification—voice what you thought and how you felt about that communication.
If you need a more gentle or empathetic communication style, ask for that. Your healthcare professional is another relationship you have in your life, and just as with a friend or a lover, you must communicate your needs. If the person is unwilling or unable to hear you or your needs, perhaps this is not a healthy relationship for you.
Nurse and Patient
Source: Zinkevych/Adobe used with permission
Consequently, when shifting behavior, creating change in your health, or dealing with your healthcare-related issues, keep in mind that you may not always like the conversations. A conversation may make you emotionally reactive or defensive; it may not make sense to you. This is all normal. I request that you drop your defenses and learn to be open.
Being open allows information to be heard, assimilated, and acted upon. Doctors have training and expert opinions. You have unique insight into your own health and can sense whether what is being said resonates. Doctors rely on your self-awareness to interpret signs and symptoms. If you are not self-aware, do not speak up, or are disconnected from yourself, it is challenging for a healthcare provider to analyze your health concerns.
Even with all of the technological advances in healthcare, the caring and compassionate a doctor can provide remain the best therapeutic tools. The ability of a doctor to provide comfort through their presence, through active listening, and their choice of language is a fundamental component of care.
Both parties contribute to the relationship. Both parties work in a partnership to help educate and restore health to the person. You must find your voice in the exam room and the provider practice advanced listening skills coupled with empathy for your health condition to be understood. Both parties have value.
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Koyama T. [Effective doctor-patient interaction and communication: psychiatric point of view]. Hokkaido Igaku Zasshi. 1994 Sep;69(5):1081-5. Japanese. PMID: 7868047.