Communicating with Physicians during Office Visits

How well do you communicate with your physician? Do you feel intimidated or inferior in the presence of your doctor? Do you ever develop “white-coat brain lock” when it comes to asking questions? When leaving the office, do you wonder what foreign language or in what tongue your doctor was speaking? If you answered yes to any or even possibly all of the above questions, you’re not alone, because one of the biggest communication gaps going is between physicians and patients.

The relationship you have with your doctor drives the quality of your treatment, and a good relationship – one where you and your doctor exchange information freely and work collaboratively to make the best decisions about your health – is the cornerstone of optimal care. So prepare in advance of your appointment. Come armed with questions, in writing, and politely request that your physician take a few minutes to respond to them. If the doctor answers, “my assistant or nurse will address these issues,” hold your ground and simply say “you’re the expert, I’d much rather hear it from you.”

Understandably, it can be difficult to deal with impatient physicians. Remember though, you are the customer! So don’t leave the office without having your questions answered and understanding everything the doctor has told you. Also, don’t withhold information. Doctors aren’t mind readers, so if you’re not sharing information because you believe it is too sensitive or irrelevant to your visit, please reconsider. What you’re withholding just might be a key piece to the puzzle of finding out what’s wrong and how to treat you.

Building a trusting, positive and rewarding partnership with your doctor takes time, particularly if your visits are infrequent. Trust your instincts as to whether or not the relationship is a good fit for you, and if not, acknowledge that you probably need to hand over you care to someone else.

Have you had any communication difficulties with your physician? How did you handle the situation?

Joseph Wegmann, R.Ph., LCSW is a licensed clinical pharmacist and a clinical social worker with more than thirty years of experience in the field of psychopharmacology. His diverse professional background in psychopharmacology and counseling affords him a unique perspective on medication management issues. In addition to consulting with numerous psychiatric facilities, he has presented psychopharmacology seminars to thousands of clinicians in 46 states.

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