patient and doctor having a conversation

How to Talk to Your Doc

Communication is key to building a solid bond with your healthcare provider. Every interaction is different because every provider, patient and health concern is different. We want you to have the best care, and in order to deliver that care, we need to keep the lines of communication open. There is no standard method to approach this, but I have some tools you can place in your tool belt.

For instance, your provider’s goal at your annual wellness visit is to make sure your health maintenance is up to date. Your exam covers vaccinations, cancer screenings, mental health screenings, advance care planning, weight management, checking your heart and lungs, breast and pelvic exams for women – all in 20 minutes. A method to help make this encounter more efficient is to ensure your medical information is up-to-date in MyChart.

You’ll want to prioritize what’s important to you during your acute and chronic care visits. Acute visits are for new concerns. A chronic care visit is for a known medical problem you’ve been monitoring and treating. On average, there are 3.4 concerns in a primary care visit and two to four in a specialty care visit.

How to Make the Most of Your Visit

First, make a running list of things you’re worried about and, before your appointment, number them by priority. We want to know what’s important to you, and you want to make sure that we know, so that our time can be maximized.

Here are some ways you can phrase questions:

  • I am worried about this medication/treatment/intervention causing x,y,z; can you tell me a little more about this?
  • If I choose not to do x,y,z medication/treatment/intervention, what are my other options? What would happen in the short-term and long-term for my health?
  • Can you tell me a little more about why you think it’s this condition and not that condition?
  • Is there a more affordable option?
  • What are your thoughts about x,y,x?
  • Can you re-word that last statement? I didn’t quite understand.

Let us know about the research you did – the skin rash that looks like your dad’s cancer, or the shortness of breath that feels like your last pneumonia. Your provider will give you their professional opinion on what will and won’t work, and will consider options such as labs, imaging and treatment plans. Our job is to investigate a puzzle of symptoms and sort out the what and why. Then we present to you, the how. How to fix it. How to prevent it. How to stop it. How to give you a better quality of life.

There may be some instances where a specialist is required because it’s out of the scope of practice for your primary care provider. However, I urge you to use your primary care provider on a regular basis because our job is to look at you as a whole person: not just your heart, not just your lungs – everything.

As medical providers, we are also learning how to communicate with our patients more effectively. And, hopefully these strategies will help you strengthen the bond between you and your provider.

May Mar, DO is a family medicine provider at Overlake Clinics Primary Care – Issaquah.

Watch Dr. Mar speak on this very topic at Overlake's Eastside Women's Symposium.