Ten Tips for Helping Clients Communicate More Effectively with their Mental-Health Medication Prescribers

doctors_visitOne of the most prevalent communications gaps is between doctors and clients. Many clients develop “white-coat brain lock” when it comes to asking questions during appointments. Some feel inferior and are intimidated by what they believe to be the doctor’s superior expertise. Still others, when leaving the office, wonder what alien language the physician was speaking.

How well do your clients communicate with their mental-health medication prescribers?
Whether that’s their primary-care physician, psychiatrist, nurse practitioner or physician assistant, the more open a client’s communications, the better the chances at receiving optimal care. Clinicians can help. Here are 10 tips to share with your clients to assist them with communicating more effectively with prescribers during office visits.

1. Prepare for the appointment: Doctor’s offices these days are a flurry of activity. So unless they’re having an initial evaluation, visits are likely to be as brief as 20 to 30 minutes. Here are some general guidelines for clients:

  • – Arrive early. Every doctor’s office will ask you to fill out forms. Arriving early will help ensure that you’ve got everything in order before you meet with your doctor.
  • – Bring a list of your symptoms. The more specific the descriptions, the greater the likelihood your doctor will be able to zero in on your problem. For example, these are clear, helpful descriptions:
    • – “I’ve been feeling sad lately, and I have no energy.”
    • – “I’ve lost my appetite over the past several days, and I’m sleeping poorly.”
    • – “I’ve recently started feeling excited and agitated, but I can’t seem to calm down.
  • – Bring a list of all medications you now take. Be sure to include all over-the-counter medications — including vitamins, herbals and other supplements. These are medications, too.
  • – Bring all your insurance information and any healthcare directives.
  • – Purchase a spiral notebook and title it simply “My Mental Health.” Use it to jot down specific questions you have for the doctor, and to take notes as your questions are answered.

2. Keep it Simple: The client should ask: “What do you think is wrong with me? Then ask these three follow-up questions:

  • – What lead you to that conclusion?
  • – What might be causing this to happen?
  • – What else could it be?

3. Ask About Testing: The prescriber may advise that certain psychological tests are warranted to better clarify the client’s problem. If so, suggest they ask these questions:

  • – What do these tests involve?
  • – How should I prepare for these tests, if at all?
  • – Will you conduct the testing? Or will I be referred to another mental-health professional?

4. Treatment Options: Questions to ask:

  • – Is there more than one treatment for my disorder?
  • – If so, what are the pros and cons of each treatment?

5. Prescription Medication: This can be a thorny issue, as prescriptions are often generated at the end of a visit. At a minimum, your client will want to know the following:

  • – What kind of medication is being prescribed for me?
  • – For what length of time will I be taking it?
  • – What can I realistically expect from this medication?
  • – What are the medication’s typical side effects? Can I combat these side effects, and if so, how? Do these side effects diminish over time?

6. Other referrals. A question for your client to ask:

  • – Doctor, do you believe that a referral to a specialist – such as a psychiatrist – might be in order?

7. Don’t hold thy tongue: Your client is the customer! Recommend that they not leave the office without having their questions answered and understanding everything the prescriber has told them in language they can understand.

8. Don’t Withhold Information: Doctors aren’t mind-readers. If your client isn’t sharing information because they believe it is too sensitive or irrelevant to their visit, ask them to seriously reconsider.

9. Bring a Buddy: Doctor’s visits are much more tolerable if clients bring along a friend, family member or colleague for support.

10. Always Follow Up: There’s an old saying in show business: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” But when it comes to a client’s relationship with their prescriber, the opposite is true. In today’s frenetic world of medicine, following up has become the client’s responsibility. Instruct your clients to inquire about follow-up visits. More than likely, they will be able to schedule their next appointment before leaving the office. Also, building a trusting and rewarding partnership with a prescriber takes time. When it comes to whether the relationship is a good fit, clients should trust their instincts. If the relationship is not a suitable fit, then clients should acknowledge that it is probably in their best interest to transfer their care to someone else.

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Joe Wegmann is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical pharmacist with over 30 years of experience in counseling and medication treatment of depression and anxiety. Joe’s new book, Psychopharmacology: Straight Talk on Mental Health Medications is available at www.pesi.com. To learn more about Joe’s programs or to contribute a question for Joe to answer in a future article, visit his website at www.thepharmatherapist.com, or e-mail him at joe@thepharmatherapist.com.