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How To Maximize Limited Time With Your Doctor

Be Open And Honest With Your Doctor

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Tell the doctor everything that relates to your health.

  • Thanks to doctor-patient privilege, what you tell your doctor is confidential. The requirement to keep your personal information confidential is also codified in the federal law known as HIPAA
  • Nothing is too embarrassing to discuss. We're talking about your health - and your life. 
    • If you are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender, be sure to let your doctor know.
  • Some people think they make the doctor feel good about them if they downplay their symptoms. You can downplay the extent of your symptoms with friends and family if you want - but it is not advisable with your doctor.

When talking with your doctor:

  • Be brief. Let the doctor ask questions if he or she wants to know more.  
  • Be direct -- not indirect. 
    • The doctor can't read your mind so don't ask him or her to. 
    • You may be used to underplaying your symptoms or your concerns with friends and people at work. Now is not the time.
  • Do not bend any facts because it is what you think the doctor wants to hear. The doctor needs truthful answers. For example, do not overestimate how compliant you have been with a drug program or how much you have exercise, or rested.

If you are concerned about how to say things, practice at home with a family member or friend - or just by talking into a mirror.

Suggestions For Making The Conversation Easier

If discussing a particular issue is a problem for you, perhaps one of the following suggestions will make it easier: 

  • Tell the doctor up front that you have something embarrassing to discuss.
  • If you have difficulty saying it in person, send the doctor a note by mail, fax or email.
  • If you take a patient advocate with you to the appointment, ask him or her to bring up the subject.
  • Tell the person in the doctor's office with whom you are comfortable. Ask him or her to tell the doctor for you.

Tell the doctor if you feel rushed, worried, or uncomfortable in the visit. Do it in terms that are not threatening to the doctor. For instance, it is better to say "I don't understand" than to say "You're not being clear." This is your health. Discomfort in the form of sweating palms and fear of reprisal or of being disliked is a small price to pay for getting the care you need.

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