5 ways to bridge the communications gap with doctors

5 ways to bridge the communications gap with doctors

In an age where technology dominates our medical world, communication between patient and doctor often leave me wanting. Over the last few years as a patient, I have learned a number of strategies to help bridge the communication gap with doctors.

For patients:

Speak up. Nobody likes confrontation, but it doesn’t have to be an argument if you are calm and respectful with your questions and requests. If he interrupts you, interrupt back. Yes, really. Afterall, it should be a two-way communication. So speak! For example: “Doctor, thank you for your time today. Would you mind sitting down while we speak. It helps me to relax and not feel like I am being rushed out the door.” The doctor should be open to hearing that.

Follow-up your appointment with a personal note. Reach out on a more personal level. For example (use words that are comfortable for you): “Hi doctor, I was so relieved when I met with you the other day. I wish you had more time, but I know you don’t. I still have some concerns that need to be addressed. Can you suggest how we can work together on this at my next appointment?”

Meet your doctor half-way.  Yes, doctors are rushed, and they are stressed, too. They have their own back stories just like us. But they want to help or they wouldn’t have chosen this profession. While it seems like a no-brainer, most of us don’t actually do this one simple thing: take time before your appointment to write down everything you want to discuss with him. Then you can make the most efficient use of the time you do have together.

Reach out to the nurse or practice manager. If you have unsuccessfully tried talking to your physician, it is time for a work-around. Office staff is a very important avenue of approach, so talk to the nurse or practice manager and see if they can advocate on your behalf. The doctor may hear your concerns more objectively through this filter. Try it. And if that doesn’t work …

When it’s time to walk away. When there is no eye contact, no compassion, no communication except when he talks at you instead of to you to bark medical instructions. If it feels like that, then it’s likely time to move on. Sometimes it happens. But you have learned, and you won’t let that happen again. Trust your instincts.

For doctors:

Dr. Philip Tumulty of Johns Hopkins, wrote: “A pair of kidneys will never come to the physician for diagnosis and treatment. They will be contained within an anxious, fearful, wondering person, asking puzzled questions about an obscure future, weighed down by the responsibilities of a loved family, and with a job to be held, and with bills to be paid.”

Sarah Beth Cowherd is a nurse who blogs at SaraBethRN.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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  • Steven Reznick

    Well said!

  • EmilyAnon

    Re: When it’s time to walk away. I walked away only once, but for different reasons from the ones you listed. The issues (long story) were with his uncaring, entrenched staff, office manager on down, not the doctor. At my last appt., having already made the decision not to come back, I wondered if I should have said my peace before I left. But I didn’t, fearing hostility if he confronted the staff about my complaint with me still there. So I just disappeared from his care. He was my doctor for 20 years. I thought he might miss me and call whereby I would explain my actions, but he never did.

  • SteveCaley

    Very true and sad story. This battle is a century old. It will never be resolved until the concept is accepted that medical care is a process. Now, medical care is constructed as a delivery of a fixed product, with “commoditized labor.” It is set up so as to utterly invalidate and negate your very good points with the response that “you did see a physician – what are you complaining about? You got what you ordered!” Speaking up, following up, all that are things that the machine has not been programmed to effect. Are you complaining about the machine? (Yes, of course.) Don’t just fill out the Press Gainey card.

  • maggiebea

    I wish PGYs were taught more about the fearful patient who walks his troubled organs into your office. When I had a sudden major eye symptom, I was terrified that I might be experiencing the onset of immediate permanent blindness (an old, irrational childhood fear). I wasn’t; but it wasn’t until the resident asked me if I had a cold (or why was I sniffling?) that I had space to say so. At which point, for the first time, it occurred to the resident to say what she had immediately discovered: that this was in fact a very minor, entirely curable condition and that it was having no effect on my central vision, and I could relax.

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