Taking an active role in your health: How to communicate with your health care provider

November 25, 2014
Physician communicating with patient with the help of a tablet.

Asking questions is the first step towards taking a more active role in your treatment and health.

With any relationship, communication is key—and the relationship with your health care provider is no exception to this golden rule. Understanding and becoming involved with your own health and treatment plan starts with talking to your health care provider.

“Recently, there has been more emphasis placed on collaboration between patients and their health care providers,” said Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., regents and distinguished professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, who researches patient-provider interactions and their impact on health outcomes.

But maybe you’re unsure how to open that channel of communication with your primary care physician at your next appointment. To help you understand where to start, Ory offers several helpful tips you can use to become more involved with your overall health:

Make a list

“People often make an appointment when they are worried about something. By making a list of concerns to focus on beforehand, patients can make the appointment go more smoothly and will be able to remember everything they wanted to discuss,” Ory said.

Your appointment is your time to focus on the problems that concern you. Making a list can help keep you on track during the appointment. Ory also suggests that you prioritize the items on your list to make sure that you address the most important aspects first.

Track the duration and severity of symptoms

If you find that your symptoms are worse at a certain period of the day or after an activity such as eating or exercising, sharing that information will help your health care provider better diagnose and care for you. “It’s also important monitor how long your symptoms last,” Ory suggested.

In the event that you think your medication is causing your problems, bring it up with your physician before deciding to stop taking it.

Have an updated medication list

“It’s always important to have an updated list of medications,” Ory said. “Especially, if you have multiple health providers.”

Having and sharing a list can help ensure that all of your providers are aware of what medications you take. This allows physicians to screen for any potential interactions that may be causing your symptoms.

There are many medication forms available for use, but here are a few things you should be sure to include:

  • Generic and brand name of the medication
  • Dosage
  • Instructions for use (e.g. three times a day with food, once in the morning, etc.)
  • Date you started the medication
  • Date you stopped the medication (if applicable)
  • The reason for the medication

Your medication list shouldn’t just include prescribed medications, be sure to list any over the counter drugs or supplements you use.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions—even uncomfortable ones

“Trust is always incredibly important in patient-provider relationships,” Ory stated. You should be comfortable asking questions about anything that concerns you or that you don’t completely understand. Never be embarrassed to ask for clarification on a subject—it’s important to have a complete understanding of your health and any wellness plans your physician suggests.

If you have concerns or questions about an uncomfortable topic, but don’t know how to broach the subject, Ory suggests that you rely on a family member or friend for help. Whether it’s just rehearsing what you want to say or asking a friend in a similar situation to accompany you, family and friends can be a great support system. The crucial thing is to make yourself comfortable with asking your care provider for help, and to always be honest with your answers. Asking questions is often the first step towards taking a more active role in your treatment and health.

It’s important to remember that your health and treatment plan should be a collaborative effort. “Discussions about a patient’s health are a two-way street,” Ory advised. “Patients need to be able to speak about their problems freely and physicians and other health care providers address their concerns and develop a treatment plan with the patients’ help. Collaborative plans are more likely to be followed and better health outcomes achieved.”

— Elizabeth Grimm

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