Talking With Your Doctor: Why Does it Matter?

August 3, 2017

Illustration of a doctor and an older coupleHow well you and your doctor communicate is an important part of getting quality health care. But talking to your doctor isn’t always easy. It takes time and effort on your part as well as your doctor’s. For a patient, this means asking questions if the doctor’s explanations or instructions are unclear, bringing up problems even if the doctor doesn’t ask, and letting the doctor know if you have concerns about a treatment, medication, or a change in your daily life. The following suggestions may help you plan for your next visit. 

Getting Ready for an Appointment

List your concerns: Make a list of what you want to discuss. For example, do you have a new symptom or do you want a flu shot? If you have more than a few items, put them in order of importance.

Take information with you: Bring a list of your prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and dosages. Do you have prescriptions from another doctor? List those as well. Give your doctor the phone number and location of the pharmacy you use.

Bring a family member or friend: Sometimes it is helpful to bring a family member or close friend to help you remember what you’ve planned to discuss and to help take notes.

Giving Information

Update your doctor: Let your doctor know what has happened in your life since your last visit. Were you treated in the emergency room or by a specialist? Mention any changes in your appetite, weight, sleep or energy level, or changes in medications or their effects on you. 

Share any symptoms: Be prepared to share information about how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. Describing your symptoms and major changes or stresses in your life is information that may be important to your doctor. 

Helping You Remember

Ask about anything that seems unclear: As your doctor gives you information, it’s a good idea to check that you are following along. If your doctor says something you’re not certain you understand, repeat back what you think your doctor said in your own words and ask, “Is this correct?”

Take notes: Bring a notepad and pen to write down the main points, or ask a family member, friend, or your doctor to write them down for you.

Get written or recorded materials: Ask if your doctor has any printed materials about a health condition or treatment. Or, ask your doctor to recommend other resources such as websites, disease management centers, and government agencies that may have written or recorded information.

Call or email your doctor: If you get home and are still uncertain about your doctor’s instructions, call the office. A nurse or other staff member can check with the doctor and call you back. You can also ask for an email address or online health portal that you can use to send questions.

A good partnership with your doctor includes listening, responding, and communicating. You and your doctor can work as a team, along with nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and other health care providers to manage your medical problems and keep you healthy. If you don’t feel that your doctor is really listening, you may want to consider finding a doctor who will.

Source: National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Talking With Your Doctor, December 2016

Photo: Irina Strelnikova/iStock/Thinkstock


Make the most of your time with your doctor by being informed. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has free information in English and Spanish.