7 Tips on How to Be Heard at Your Next Doctor’s Appointment

Mar 20, 2024 | Primary Care

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When it comes to a doctor’s appointment, one of the biggest concerns is making sure we get all the important information from them and understand what they want us to do.

But what about making sure your doctor understands and hears you?

There are so many things we want to say, some things we’re unsure about bringing up, and others that make us uncomfortable to discuss. But overall, we want to leave feeling like our doctor has heard all our concerns.

We spoke with Patrick Gensler, a licensed clinical social worker with the Health Leaders Network care coordination team.

Patients are often referred to Gensler and other social workers if they need access to resources outside of their healthcare, such as support with transportation, covering the cost of medicine and healthy foods, or other needs. He’s even helped a patient get a mailbox set up at their home so they could receive important health documents and information in the mail.

“Through our role as this patient-facing advocate, we try to keep our fingers on the pulse of what really matters to our patients,” Gensler says.

And through his role, Gensler has developed some ways he’s been able to encourage patients to advocate for themselves or for a loved one when speaking with a doctor:

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It’s OK to feel uncomfortable talking about your health.

We’re our own worst critics. 

Gensler says we all have a very human desire to be told that we’re “normal” even if there’s something “wrong” with us, and that can lead to some internal struggles about how much to say to a doctor or complete avoidance of the topic.

“We’ve lived our lives up to a certain point with our bodies functioning in a certain way and gotten used to that norm,” Gensler says. “And when something happens that changes how we function or look or feel, it can be a badge of shame for many. We can perceive it as being strange to the outside world, including our providers. And so, I think people have a fear of being labeled in a certain way and maybe not having their whole story told — that this isn’t really who I am.”

These feelings are normal and especially common for people going through a health change or health issue, he says.

Your doctor has likely heard similar health issues before.

Even though it may be uncomfortable for you to discuss certain aspects of your health issues, it’s helpful to remember that your doctor has treated patients just like you. 

They’ve heard about abnormal bowel movements and peculiar moles. They’ve heard all the gross stuff and what some might consider sensitive or taboo topics on a daily basis.

“It’s likely that whatever sensitive issue you have to discuss is something they may have seen or heard before and they’re not going to find it awkward or embarrassing,” he says.

MyChart can help make the conversation easier.

These days, many of us find it easier to text someone than to call them or meet face to face.

That can also be helpful for patients who aren’t ready for an in-person interaction with their doctor.

When Gensler hears from patients that they are unsure about talking with their doctor about a concern, he often suggests starting with a message through MyChart

The platform allows you to message your doctor or care team directly and get feedback to help you determine the next steps, such as scheduling an appointment.

“I find that it can soften that handshake a little bit,” Gensler says. “That patient might be more willing to go into that next doctor’s visit and be able to broach the subject knowing that the doctor has already been primed for that conversation.”

Bring someone with you.

Gensler says it’s helpful to recruit a family member or someone you trust who can come with you to a doctor’s visit for support. 

A second set of ears could catch something the doctor says that you might have missed. That support person can also help encourage you or fill in the gaps if you’re having trouble verbalizing what’s wrong.

Have a debrief after the appointment with your support person to make sure you both understand every instruction from the doctor.

Write down what you need to say.

Bringing a cheat sheet is helpful, too, Gensler says. 

Write down a list of questions you want to ask the doctor, or a list of concerns you need to make sure to share. We’ve got some tips on what to ask to help you prepare.

Get through every item on your list and don’t make excuses about skipping over things once you’re there. Your doctor will give you their undivided attention and is trained to ask things like “What else is bothering you?” and other follow-up questions, so you aren’t inconveniencing them by bringing up other concerns you have.

Remember: If you wrote it down, it’s important to you. Make that concern known.

Let them know who you are.

Gensler says some of his own relationships with doctors have benefited from sharing his own story — not just his health concerns, but the things that are most important to him. 

Things like family, hobbies and favorite activities are necessary to understanding your health goals.

Maybe you want to recover from a fractured elbow so you can get back on the tennis court. Maybe you want to keep your heart healthy so you can spend more time chasing after grandkids.

Understanding what’s important to you will help your doctor know what to prioritize in your healthcare. And that rapport will also help make future doctor’s visits and conversations much easier.

Put yourself in the center of your healthcare ‘ship.’

When it comes to who is in charge of your health, Gensler uses an analogy of a ship: You are the captain, not your doctor.

“Yes, we don’t have the specialized training or knowledge that our providers do, but we live in our bodies — in our ships,” Gensler says. “We know them better than anyone else. So we need to speak up when our rudder is crooked, when the sails are torn, when we don’t know where we’re headed. Our providers are our specialized crew who can listen to us and help us get us back on track.”

Your doctor’s goal is to help you reach the health outcomes that are most important to you. Being confident in your interactions with them — telling them exactly what you need to — can help them get you the best care.

And that way, you can steer your ship in the right direction.

Ready to talk with a primary care provider about your health concerns? Connect with one of our providers today.

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