3 min read

How to Talk with Your Doctor and Why It Matters

By Signify Health Team on 3/22/24 10:00 AM

One of the most important parts of managing your health is having open and productive conversations with your primary care provider.

Once upon a time, patients would make an appointment to see their doctor only when something was wrong. During the visits, the physician did most of the talking, and the patient - who often felt intimidated or uncomfortable - said little other than to answer the direct questions. Once upon a time, a patient would visit a drugstore to have a prescription filled. The Pharmacist dressed all in white, worked behind a large counter built higher than the regular floor. When the pharmacist spoke to the patient, they would look down from their high perch at the patient below.

That was then. Today, patients not only spend time with their doctor, but they also spend time with nurses and other highly educated and trained health care team members. Patients are encouraged to communicate with their caregivers, and the health care team is encouraged to actively listen to their patients. If a prescription needs to be filled, the pharmacist no longer works from an elevated position and can have private, face-to-face conversations. As a patient, you may hear terms that you are unfamiliar with, like "team-based care," "value-based care," "telehealth," "patient engagement," and “preventive screenings.” You may have opportunities to take a blood pressure cuff home to monitor your pressures daily or be offered an Annual Wellness Visit or In-home Evaluation even when you feel fine. You may be encouraged to have screenings for things like diabetes, cancer, and injuries. Your doctor may suggest you use an app on your smartphone to send and receive text messages.

Upgrades and enhancements have helped improve health care, but they have also changed how clinics and hospitals practice. With so many moving parts, new systems and technologies can easily confuse or even overwhelm your experience as a patient. Below are five ways to make the most out of your conversations and relationship with your doctor and health care team so you can better manage your health.

  1. Work with your entire team of caregivers.

Today, health care is often managed by a team of professionals. In addition to your primary care provider (sometimes called a PCP) and your pharmacist, you could have a specialist, a nurse or nurse practitioner, a medical assistant, a patient coordinator, an office manager, and an information coordinator – all professionals who work with you to support your health care journey. Take advantage of your whole team; they are there for you.

  1. Understand your options.

Unlike in the past, today, most practices offer a range of ways to see your doctor. In-person appointments in the office or clinic system are important, but sometimes, a phone or video call ("telehealth") is more convenient. Some health insurance plans include in-home assessments and screening visits at no additional cost. Talk with your health care team to learn more about using phone and video appointments and if an in-home visit is available to you.

  1. Use your time wisely.

Patient appointments are usually scheduled every 15 to 20 minutes, so your time with your doctor is limited. Prepare for your appointment by writing notes and any questions you have. Your doctor wants to hear from you, and it can be easy to forget things in an unfamiliar clinic or office setting or in the moment. The more information you can provide, the better they will understand any symptoms or concerns you are experiencing. Consider preparing notes before your appointment and bringing them with you so you will remember everything you want to discuss.4_Checklist -  How to Talk with Your Doctor and Why It Matters

  1. Making sense of health care terminology.

Health care professionals often use words that we do not understand. For example, your doctor may say your test result or x-ray was “impressive.” That may seem like good news, but in the health care world, “impressive” often means “concerning.” Even if you think you understand, ask your doctor or caregiver to clarify by saying, “What do you mean by that?” or confirm their words by repeating them in your own words, “So you’re saying you are worried?” If your first language is something other than English, making sense of health care terminology can be even more challenging. Ask if there is an interpreter or someone who speaks your native language. 

  1. Bring a friend or family member.

Your health care is the key to your quality of life. Often, patients feel more comfortable when a spouse, adult child, or close friend accompanies them to appointments. A friend or family member can help you remember to ask questions, and having another person with you helps ensure that the appointment details are heard, understood, and not forgotten.

Jargon alert: How doctors speak could cause harm for patients.