How to Discuss Making Changes with Your Doctor

In my post called Why your doctor might not be the one to give you the push to health change you're waiting on them for, I wrote about the basics of behaviour changes with your doctor, and how, this process is about you.You are in control! However, that does not mean that initiating a discussion about self-change is easy to have.

First, remember your doctor is human. Maybe they drink too much coffee or routinely skip lunch because of their clinic schedule, or exercise approximately never, or wish they saw their family more. We are all working on something—even doctors! And, chances are if they haven’t tried to make some sort of change in their life similar to the one you are wanting to make, they probably had a patient sitting in approximately the same position as you asking them a similar question. Doctors are doctors because they want people to be healthier. And, they’ve heard more than you can even imagine.

Second, how you address what changes you want to make is totally up to you. If you’re more of a paper-type, take a list of your appointment questions in, and show the doctor what you want to discuss during an appointment outside of just refilling your meds. I find if I sit there with my iPad or a list in my phone and consult my device every once in awhile, my doctor isn’t about to run away until I show them that I am done with my list (and I make it obvious I am using my phone for notes! Usually “I had a few things I wanted to go over, let me pull up my list,” works well.)
If you have lab tests that show you that you should be making a change in your health behaviour—like a lung function test that is worse than previously because you are struggling with taking your meds regularly, or a blood glucose test or blood pressure test that shows elevated numbers more than at random—you can use those as a segue. “I know my blood glucose is a bit high, and I’ve read online that exercise and changing what I am eating my help. I want to try to get on top of this. Can you give me advice on that?” or, “I’m struggling to pay for my medications which could be why my breathing test was worse, do you know how I can make this more affordable so I can take them more often?” show you understand that there are things you can do—not just things your doctor can prescribe—to improve your health, but that you need a bit more guidance. You can also bring a resource from a health clinic or pharmacy to help start the discussion, like a brochure on asthma that has information that you’d like help applying to your life.

When your doctor offers advice, take a moment to consider it before agreeing. Will the advice really work for you? As I’ve shared before, my family doctor’s baseline exercise prescription for someone sedentary who has recently been diagnosed with a chronic disease that is impacted by lifestyle (such as high blood pressure and inactivity), is to tell them to “walk for a half hour five days per week.” She may have even said an hour, I can’t remember. While I informed her this probably isn’t attainable for most people, never mind someone who has not done any exercise in years. If you find yourself thinking your doctor’s plan for you is unrealistic… say so! You can build up to the changes you want to make—like walking ten minutes per day for the first two weeks, fifteen minutes for the next two, and so on. Take a moment to contemplate what they have told you—it is your time. If it doesn’t seem like it works for you, tell them and figure out a new approach.

Remember, you are in control. Your doctor can provide tools, but it is about you, what choices you want to make, and where you’re at in your life. Some recommendations may not be realistic for you—and that is okay. Having a collaborative relationship with your doctor, even if the changes take a bit longer, is most important to get the most out of your journey to making change. So, be honest and open, and express your need for change in the plan for change if you need one to be made! You’ll get there, even if it takes a bit more time—you and your doctor both will still be happy you are making the choice to get where you need to be, it is just up to you to take the lead!

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