Lost (and Found) in Translation: Improving Communication with Your Physician


| 3 min read

Whether you’re going in for your annual physical or seeking treatment for an illness, you probably already do a bit of prep work before a doctor’s appointment.
To-dos might include printing out relevant medical information or records, taking note of medications and supplements you're currently taking and writing down any existing symptoms or issues. But there’s one more way to prepare for the visit: Learn how to improve the way you and your doctor communicate with each other.
Being able to understand what a health professional is saying (and convey your own thoughts and concerns in turn) is crucial to taking care of your health and wellness. These four tips will help you do just that:
Don’t hold back. When you’re talking to your doctor, it’s important to be as detailed as possible. Describe what’s going on as if you’re talking to a friend. Even try using analogies.
For example, if your chest has been feeling like an elephant is sitting on it, say it just that way. Be honest regardless of how embarrassed you may be. So, if you find that your bowel movements have been a weird color, don’t hesitate to share that information. One way to feel less embarrassed? Make sure you have regular checkups to help build a close relationship with him or her.
Turn close-ended questions into narratives. Physicians are busy, which can make appointments feel a bit rushed. That said, your health is the top priority so don’t hurry through your fears. If it seems like your doctor is asking a lot of “yes” or “no” questions, add descriptive details to your answer.
Don’t just say you’ve had pain, show where you’ve been feeling it the most. Don’t just say you have ringing in your ear, mention the day it began and whether it fades in and out or is more constant. By answering more than yes or no, you’ll create a conversation that could help you learn more about what’s going on.
Always ask three specific questions. The Ask Me 3® program is an initiative that promotes healthy doctor/patient relationships and education through conversation. It mentions three important questions you should always ask to ensure you understand what’s going on. They are:
  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?
Make sure you understand. Only 12% of Americans have “proficient health literacy,” meaning that 88% find it hard to grasp most health terms. If you ask your doctor or nurse a question and didn’t fully understand their response, don’t pretend. It’s your doctor’s responsibility to make sure you have the information you need, so speak up if you aren’t totally grasping things. When in doubt, repeat what you just heard in your own words to make sure you totally understand.
Visit these other blogs for more tips on increasing the understanding between you and your doctors:
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association