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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