ASK The Caregiver’s Voice (TCV)
My doctor always seems rushed. I feel he doesn’t fully understand my symptoms. How can I make sure he understands then takes time to answer my questions?
The truth is this happens more than we’d like. If primary care doctors knew how severely families were affected by their hasty judgments they would be more cautious.
Helen, an active elder who volunteered for three community organizations, and her daughter Betsy were shocked to hear the doctor’s quick diagnosis for Helen’s short-term memory loss.
Not even looking at Helen, the doctor turned to Betsy and declared, “She has dementia.”
No test, no series of questions, no brain scan, nothing; just one question, “How old are you?”
“Well, that’s it then. When you get older, you forget more.” Then turning to Betsy, the doctor chuckled, “She’s lived a long life, she’s bound to come down with something.”
Betsy took Helen’s hand. Both rose from their chairs and walked out the door.
Even though they disagreed with the doctor’s diagnosis, Helen was privately devastated.
In the above situation, the family was shocked by the diagnosis and the doctor’s flippant attitude as he turned to Betsy and chuckled about Helen’s diagnosis.
Although Helen’s doctor behaved unprofessionally, doctors also experience human foibles. Like us, their behaviors are impacted by unrelated events such as a family matter, another patient, or because they are running late.
Steps that will improve how you and your doctor communicate.
These five steps will ensure you help your doctor take the time needed to understand your symptoms and to explain the diagnosis and treatment plan.
1. Take notes between doctor’s appointments.
Keep these in a handy “Health File” in your file or desk drawer or on your computer. You can even save this information on your smart phone. And there are websites that allow you to post your records and notes online.
Each time you experience a symptom be sure to add a note. When it’s time for your appointment, you will have all your notes conveniently gathered in one place.
If you’re using your home computer, be sure to print a copy before you see your doctor. Otherwise, bring the notes you’ve kept in your file or refer to the notes you’ve saved to your smart phone.
2. Prioritize the issues you want to discuss with your doctor.
Be aware that doctors take time to review and add notes before and after seeing you in addition to the time they spend with you face-to-face.
Prioritize your issues then ask your doctor to agree to see you for an extended appointment at least once a year. S/he will be pleased you take your health care seriously (assuming you do).
3. Help the doctor slow down and even start from square one.
Had Betsy and Helen stayed…
- Betsy could have rephrased the doctor’s diagnosis and asked (in a gentle tone with a slight smile) if he were jumping to a conclusion because of her mother’s age.
- She could have reminded the doctor how involved her mother was in the community.
- Betsy may have clarified that Helen’s short-term memory loss symptoms became apparent only recently.
4. Ask your doctor to explain in his/her own words what you’re describing.
Learn whether or not your doctor understands by asking him/her to express the symptoms you’re describing. Keep requesting for the doctor’s understanding (this is the hard part) until you feel s/he understands.
5. Bring a patient advocate with you to your doctor’s appointment.
It’s hard enough to remember everything you want to cover, let alone trying to make sure your doctor shows an understanding. This is why some patients do better with someone by their side who will speak on their behalf when they forget to and make sure their issues are answered.
Although, Betsy and Helen left the first doctor, Betsy encouraged Helen to seek another diagnosis. The second doctor suspected medications to be the cause of Helen’s short-term memory loss.
They were referred to a geriatric specialist whose tests confirmed the second doctor’s assessment.
Once Helen’s medications were rebalanced and one eliminated, she began feeling better and remembering more. She returned to her volunteer work.
These five tips will ensure your doctor clearly understands your symptoms leaving plenty of time to cover your prioritized concerns.
For private coaching or a workshop, click on: Rx for Communicating with Your Doctor.
Brenda Avadian, MA