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How to Effectively Communicate with Your Doctor

By Alisa Sabin March 22, 2024 Health and Fitness

A 2021 AHIMA Foundation survey found 76% of respondents don’t leave their doctor’s office on a positive note. Poor communication between patient and doctor may adversely affect medical care. Successful physician-patient dialogue is the cornerstone of health. These conversations often prove challenging. There are things you can do to enhance the communication during your doctor’s visit. The following are some tips to optimize discourse. 

Focus on What Is Important to You

Unfortunately, there may be time constraints at your doctor’s visit, and it is very possible only one issue is able to be addressed at each visit. So, make sure you start off talking about the main issue you want addressed. Keep in mind, if the appointment is already made to address a chronic health issue like diabetes or hypertension, that is probably what will be discussed. If you have a different problem you want addressed, it is best to schedule a separate appointment for that, so full attention can be focused on your main concern.

Be clear about what you want out of the visit. Do you want to know how your medication improves your health or do you want a thorough investigation as to why you are having your symptoms, or do you simply want a note for a couple of days off of work because you don’t feel well?

Of course, saying what you want does not mean the physician will give you what you want. Sometimes what you want and what is best for your health are not the same thing. But, at least the communication will be clearer if you simply state what is important to you for the visit and what you would like to achieve at the visit.

Ask Questions

Your physician wants you to understand what they are telling you. If you do not understand something, ask questions. If you need further clarification or more information, ask. Do not be intimidated if you do not know the jargon your doctor is using. Speak up and tell them to define the words you do not know. 


While it is important to know what you want to focus on at your doctor’s visit, it is also very important to listen to the response and reasoning behind your doctor’s advice. You may come in to your visit believing you know what you want after consulting “Dr. Google,” but that may not be the best course of action for your health.

It goes without saying that there is a plethora of misinformation on the internet and probably just as much when consulting family, friends and acquaintances. You came to your doctor’s office for advice and a plan of action for your care. So, listen to the available treatment plan presented to you by your doctor and be attentive as to why your doctor feels this is reasonable and in the best interest of your health.

Keep and Maintain Accurate Records

Bringing in a bag of your medication in their bottles is very helpful if a thorough review of your current medications is needed. Also, having a list of your allergies, ongoing illnesses, and past hospitalizations, and surgeries with their dates, either in your phone or on a piece of paper, is advantageous.

Your chart may have entries from numerous visits to different providers, and there may be duplications of medications. There may also be newly added medications not included or procedures done that are not readily visible in the chart. 

Be Honest About Your Symptoms

No one wants to get bad news, but the bad news is there whether we want to hear it or not. If you are having chest pain on your morning walks, tell your doctor. Thinking, “It’s probably nothing,” may be true. Yet, it may be false. If the chest pain is related to your heart, there could be something done to prevent a heart attack.

If something is worrying you, be honest about it. You may be worried that your abdominal pain is pancreatic cancer like your friend but instead of saying this to your doctor, you say, “I’ve had a little gas lately,” and go on to talk about your diabetes. Let your doctor know what you feel is worrisome. You may find reassurance that this is not concerning, or you may have follow up tests scheduled to find out if your worries are actually warranted. 

There is no doubt that some medical symptoms or concerns are of a sensitive nature. Do not be embarrassed to give an honest medical history. If you have recently had a new or multiple sexual partners or taken recreational drugs, your doctor needs to know this in order to treat you properly. In depth and sincere communication is key to a productive doctor’s visit. 

Participate in Your Health

Communication is an exchange. It is important to listen to your doctor but it is just as important for you to communicate your understanding of the treatment plan. You and your doctor should clearly be on the same page. Your doctor needs to take in the clear and honest information that you give, and they should use that information to form advice and a direct course of action that you can understand. If you are not agreeable with the plan, tell your doctor why this is.

It is possible a more suitable health plan can be achieved. Of course there are times when doctor and patient will agree to disagree. But, at least both parties will be thoroughly informed to make educated decisions. 

In Summary

Saying one or two sentences at the end of a doctor’s visit summarizing the action plan set forward can add great value to the visit. You will confirm understanding with your physician or find out that your interpretation of what was accomplished is not what the physician was trying to communicate. A simple, “So, I plan to try and lose weight, do aerobic exercise regularly and take the new blood pressure medication once a day,” at the end of a visit can add so much understanding and a sense of completion to the doctor’s visit.

Read the full survey here: Understanding, Access and Use of Health Information in America An AHIMA Foundation Study.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you think there are things you can do to maximize the effectiveness of your doctor’s visits? What things could you do to make the visits more productive and pleasant? How would improving your doctor’s visits be beneficial to your health?

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Judy Whaley

This is excellent advice. In my own personal experience, doctors don’t listen and dismiss women’s concern and are quick to offer an easy diagnosis or push pills (I once teased a doctor and asked if he had stock in the pharmaceutical company) I ‘fired’ a couple of them for the above. When I was having debilitating core muscle seizures over a couple year period, the only thing the doctor could recommend was to lose weight and get breast reduction. Not the case at all once I was referred to another doctor to see a physiotherapist. I think Senior’s complaints are not taken seriously either. Grrrrr.

The Author

Dr. Alisa Sabin is an urgent care physician at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in Stockton, California. She is also an author of her debut novel, Still. It is a medical thriller about an organized crime ring of maternity nurses. Alisa loves working with patients and she loves to write. You can follow her on her website at

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