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6 Tips for talking to your doctor

Article at a glance

  • One of the most important steps for establishing a good patient-provider relationship is honesty. To learn more about ways to be honest with your provider and certain questions you can ask, read this section.
  • It’s easy to become nervous when entering a doctor’s office which can skew certain test results and make the conversation with your provider less fulfilling. To learn more about relaxation techniques to use before or during an appointment, read this section.
  • Remembering what was said during an appointment can be tricky. To learn more about ways to take information home with you, read this section.

Come Prepared

The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that patients, on average, only have around 15 minutes to speak with their doctor during an appointment. However, a short time frame does not mean that a patient cannot have a quality doctor’s appointment. It simply means that they should come prepared with any information, questions, or concerns they have for their provider. To ensure you’re prepared for the appointment, take some time to reflect before arriving and gather any materials you may need. Ways to prepare include, but are not limited to:

  • Assistance Needed on Arrival: If a patient needs transportation to an appointment, requires handicap access, or would benefit from the use of an interpreter upon arrival, they should call ahead to let the office or hospital know. Giving your provider’s office a heads up, allows them to accommodate you appropriately and conduct a smooth doctor’s visit.

  • Current Symptoms: If you are currently experiencing any ailments, write down your symptoms alongside where they are on your body and a timeline of when they began. Including an estimate of how much it hurts on a scale of 1 to 10 is also a great idea so the provider can understand your sensitivity to the problem.

  • Current Medications: If you are currently taking any medications, it’s important to bring them with you to your appointment. This can help your provider to visualize what you’re prescribed, why you’re prescribed it, and how frequently you should be taking it. It also allows them to help you cut back on any unnecessary medications or organize a schedule of when you should take the ones you are currently on.

  • Medical Records: If you’re a new patient, it’s important to gather any past medical records to share with your provider. Examples of important medical records can include vaccination history, blood tests, X‑rays, any preventive screenings, and more. Having any and all records helps your doctor to picture your overall health and approach your wellbeing from a well-rounded, comprehensive understanding.

  • Family History: Another important aspect to introduce if you’re a new patient is your family’s health history. If any chronic conditions or diseases run in your family, it’s important to let your doctor know because it has the potential to impact your health as well.

Note: To learn more tips on how to come prepared for a doctor’s appointment, visit this source.

Be Honest

When it comes to speaking with your provider, honesty is the key to success. The only way for your doctor to know what’s on your mind is for you to tell them. Not to mention, the more honest you are, the better picture they have of your overall health, and thus, the better they can help you. 

While certain conversations may seem awkward or embarrassing, your provider has most likely heard similar things discussed before. Don’t skirt around issues with sexual health, bowel movements, or other intimate topics because they can affect your well-being and your doctor wants to hear what’s going on.

Another thing to note with honesty is how beneficial it can be for a patient to share their feelings about a certain health issue. For example, if a patient states that they’re apprehensive about a problem or confused about something and would like to talk more about it, it helps to reframe the conversation with the provider. If your doctor knows how serious a patient feels about an issue, it can help them structure the appointment and their communication style to best suit the patient’s needs.

Work Collaboratively

A great doctor-patient relationship requires both parties to be collaborative when discussing a patient’s healthcare plan. As a patient, try to frame your mindset that your provider is there to help you and prescribe the best care plan possible. When entering an appointment with this headspace, it allows both parties to open up an honest dialogue. If a patient feels confused by a doctor’s diagnosis or care plan, they should feel free to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for different options or to help you weigh the risks and benefits; they’re there to help you take charge of your wellbeing.

Note: Oak Street Health allots providers more time on average to see their patients, and if they aren’t able to address all of a patient’s concerns in that visit, they are happy to schedule another. Not to mention, Oak Street sees more visits in a year than the average clinic, so that the provider-patient relationship can really grow over time, allowing for more comfortability and addressing of concerns.


Going in for a doctor’s visit can induce a lot of nerves. However, stress and worry can alter important test results such as blood pressure levels or a higher heart rate, leaving your appointment to be less accurate and fulfilling. If you struggle with becoming skittish before or during a visit with your provider, try practicing some relaxation techniques. Ways to relax include but are not limited to:

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Slowly tense and then relax each muscle, working from head to toe, in order to release the tension you’re holding and calm your body and mind.

  • Visualization: Close your eyes and transport your mind to a place that’s relaxing to you. In this exercise, it’s important to incorporate as many of the five senses as possible e.g. the smell of the salty ocean air, the sound of the waves, the feel of the sand, etc.

  • Breathing Techniques: Take a few minutes to take some deep breaths in and then slowly let them out. Breathwork can help to slow a rapid heart rate and relieve the stress bouncing in your mind.

  • Aromatherapy: Many smells have proven to be very soothing for the mind and body, such as lavender or peppermint. Working with various essential oils or indulging in a fragrant hand lotion or spray may help to relieve stress prior to or during an appointment.

Other common ways to mitigate stress may include listening to soothing music, practicing meditation, massage therapy, and more. Another great way to soothe one’s mind is to bring a friend or family member along to an appointment for support. Having someone familiar around can help calm nerves while adding another pair of ears to listen in and help you decompress once the appointment is over. To learn more about various relaxation techniques that help when talking with your doctor, visit this source.

Ask Questions

When establishing an open and honest relationship with a provider, any and all clarifying questions are welcome. No provider wants their patient to leave confused and distraught after an appointment. Even after a patient has returned home, if a question lingers in their mind, they should call their provider’s office or message them on their virtual portal to make sure they feel at ease. Questions can be about anything, such as medication, insurance, preventive health measures, test results, new diagnoses, and more. 

To reiterate, even if a topic seems embarrassing or awkward, doctors are not there to judge you or what’s going on with your body. It’s likely they’ve confronted this problem before and they certainly want to help you with it, so just be honest.

Note: For a list of over 100 wide-ranging questions to ask a provider, visit this source.

Take Information Home

It’s important for the patient to leave with an understanding of what was discussed so they can feel content with their medical care visit. Ways to help your understanding after you leave include, but are not limited to:

  • Take Notes: Bring along a notebook or an electronic device to record anything notable from your visit. If anything seems confusing while you jot down notes, ask your doctor to make a clarification or to rephrase it so you can better understand.

  • Bring a Loved One: Having a family member or close friend at your appointment not only increases your comfort levels, but it also adds another set of ears to the mix. They can listen in on what’s said and talk through the appointment with you once you’ve left. 

  • Virtual Portal: Some provider networks have an online portal where they post test results, notes, or can message you regarding certain health issues or appointments. Ask your provider to see if their network has an online portal where they can post any notes from the session.

  • Call the Office: If you begin to feel confused after the appointment is over, it’s okay to call the office or send your provider a message to clarify what information you’re forgetting. Remember, your doctor is here to help and wants you to leave with a better understanding of your wellbeing and health care plan. 

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