Tips for Communicating With Your Doctor
Your asthma is most likely to stay under control when you work hand in hand with your healthcare team. This post will give you some tips for talking with them. It's all about teamwork, respect, and advocating for yourself!
Why talking with your doctor is so important
Positive, proactive communication with your doctor can lead to not only better asthma control but also better:
- Satisfaction with your overall health care
- Understanding of your disease and your treatment
- Comfort and skill in managing and monitoring your asthma when you're on your own
Communication is a two-way street, though, and not every doctor will make the effort to meet you halfway. If that happens, you may need to consider changing doctors. But before you make that decision, here are some things you can do to improve communication.
Tips for talking with your doctors
Ask lots of questions
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement suggests there are 3 main questions every patient should ask of their doctor at the beginning of care and then on each patient-doctor interaction afterward, I've adapted these questions to relate to asthma:
1. What is my main problem in terms of my asthma at this time? You need to understand what's going on with your asthma health status in order to grasp why the doctor is making the decisions or prescribing the treatment that he/she is. If you don't understand, chances are, you won't take action -- or at least not the correct action.
2. What actions do I need to take next? Ask your doctor to explain the specific steps you are to take when you leave the office/hospital or get off the phone. If you don't understand the first time (or the second), don't be afraid to ask him/her to explain it again or to provide more detail.
3. Why is it important for me to do this? If you don't understand why the doctor has prescribed something or given you a specific instruction, you may not do it, or not in a timely manner.
Advocate for yourself!
These 3 questions are a great starting point for talking with your doctor. But you should always feel free to ask as many questions as needed to understand what is going on with your body and what to expect from your treatment.
Make your questions short and to the point for best results. Also, in case the doctor does not have time to answer all of your questions, prioritize and ask the most important ones first.
If your doctor is still unable to take the time to sit and talk with you until your most important questions are answered, perhaps one of the nurses on staff can do so.
What if my doctor seems too busy?
It's a fact of life today in the U.S. that doctors have limited time to spend with patients. Changing health insurance patterns and a move to electronic records have greatly changed how doctors and patients are communicating.
But, besides knowing the right questions to ask, there are other things you can do to enhance and get the most out of every doctor visit.
1. Come prepared. Take time before the visit to think about what questions you have, what things you want to report (such as how you're responding to treatment, any symptom patterns you're noticing, your tracking records, etc.), and then gather any information or paperwork you need and bring it with you.
2. Bring someone with you. Sometimes, it can be hard to absorb everything doctors talk about during a visit, especially if they are rushing. Bringing someone else with you, such as a spouse, parent or child, or even a friend, can help. Get them to write things down for you to refer to afterward. In addition, the person may act as your advocate with the doctor, if you become overwhelmed.
3. Think outside the box. If you are not able to get your concerns all addressed in one visit, you might ask for a follow-up visit. Most doctors will be agreeable to this. Another option is to arrange for a follow-up phone call, either with the doctor or one of the other professionals on the team. You might even be able to email your doctor. Explore the possibilities.
4. Interact with other members of the healthcare team. No two ways about it; your doctor is overworked and short on time. But, there may well be other members of your healthcare team who are just as qualified to answer some of your questions and concerns. For example:
- A respiratory therapist may be able to answer questions about inhaler technique or how to use a peak flow meter.
- Your pharmacist may be able to answer questions about how medications work and what side effects, if any, to watch out for.
- A nutritionist can answer questions about healthy eating or how to lose weight, if needed.
- A nurse practitioner or physician's assistant on the doctor's staff may be able to talk over aspects of treatment, how to use/take your medications or even to provide some short-term counseling and support.
Your health is your responsibility, but you can't do it on your own, not when you have asthma. Talking with your doctor can make a huge difference in how well your asthma is controlled and your overall health and quality of life.
So, be proactive and advocate for yourself. It is your right to do so!
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