5 Tips to Improve Communication with your Doctor

Pictured left to right: Michael S. King, President & CEO at Jewish Home, Ronald Epstein, M.D., Professor of Family Medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center, Mitchell Ehrenberg, M.D., Personal Medicine of Rochester, and Daniel Mendelson, M.D., Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Medical Services at Jewish Home

The health care system has become more complex, transactional, and fragmented in recent years. Personal Medicine of Rochester’s own Mitchell Ehrenberg, M.D., recently participated in a panel discussion as part of The Clare & Jerry Rotenberg Institute on Aging. For those who missed the symposium, Take Charge of Your Health through Open Dialogue covered invaluable skills and practical tips for how to better communicate with physicians and other members of your health care team.

Ronald Epstein, M.D., Professor of Family Medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center, author, and researcher, served as keynote speaker for the event, which was held at Rochester Academy of Medicine. Daniel Mendelson, M.D., Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Medical Services at Jewish Home, was also on the panel.

Dr. Epstein provided attendees some key recommendations for both patients and physicians to create a stronger, more personal connection. The following tips from the program should help patients get the most out of their next appointment:

Deep Listening

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, author Steven R. Covey stated, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Dr. Epstein stressed that what we say is not as important as how we listen. Active listening takes mutual respect from both the patient and physician. Make sure there is mutual understanding by paying attention, not interrupting, and repeating what is said.

Ask Questions

Whether a person is at an annual physical or receiving some difficult health news, it’s important to ask questions. Patients should be specific and direct since time is usually limited. Be sure to inquire about benefits and risks of certain treatments; and if something seems off, don’t accept it at face value. It may require a second opinion. On the topic of questions, Dr. Ehrenberg emphasized, “Follow up is your friend!” If ever in doubt, it’s important to follow up with the physician to get remaining concerns addressed post-appointment.

Manage Limited Time

Preparing a list in advance of an appointment will not only help people stay on track with any health concerns in need of attention, but also prioritize what is most important. Flexibility is critical, as well as utilizing the aforementioned deep listening skills before responding. Those who are prone to tangents will also benefit from having a list to stay on track during the conversation. All three physicians recommended bringing a trusted family member or friend if needed to help keep the appointment on track and to provide an extra set of ears should the patient become emotional.

Eliminate Distractions

Health care offices and examination rooms are often filled with interruptions and distractions—some of which might be beyond the physician’s control. It’s also become a common practice for patients to scroll through social media while they wait. Social media isn’t the only phone distraction—people play games, text, and also take calls. Once in the exam room, it’s beneficial to silence your phone and any other distractions so you can focus on your health concerns. Distractions can lead to missed opportunities to ask important questions.

Identify Assumptions

Assumptions in health care can potentially lead to bad outcomes for patients. Physicians have a responsibility to check their biases at the door, but mindful patients should also be aware of the preconceived notions they have about their condition. For example, not every natural remedy is better, not every ailment requires a pill for treatment, and not all chemotherapy will make you horribly ill with side effects. People also get a lot of misinformation about symptoms and treatments from the internet. It’s important to fact check, consider the source, and ask questions to eliminate concerns. “Patients also shouldn’t assume their diagnosis at the start,” said Dr. Ehrenberg. “A good physician will probe for symptoms rather than the patient’s notions of what the diagnosis is. A patient utilizing good communication will ensure the doctor is aware of all symptoms.”

These tools and strategies should help increase your confidence and create more effective conversations with your provider. In order to get what you want and need out of your visit, remember that doctor and patient communication is a 2-way street that leads toward better health.

The Clare & Jerry Rotenberg Institute on Aging serves as a hub of knowledge to promote positive aging and quality of life, innovative programming, and knowledgeable experts. It not only serves Jewish Home residents, families, caregivers, and staff, but also the community-at-large. For more information on upcoming educational seminars, discussions, wellness screenings, and more, click here.