Communicating with your Health Care Provider

by Daniel Leffingwell MS, RN

Revised 7/18/12

Prepare for your Appointment

What you should do:

Write down notes before you see your doctor. What's important for you to ask?

Bring a family member or friend with you. Chances are they will be able to communicate important points or facts that may help.

Do you remember when your family memeber asked you Did you ask your doctor...?


What you practitioner should do:

Schedule enough time to fully listen to your story.


Answer your health care providers questions the best you can.

What you should do:

Be direct and to the point and honest. Describe any problems and symptoms that you have as accurately as you can.

Stick to the facts.Remember each patient appointment is on the avaerage only 10-20 minutes


What you practitioner should do:

Has respect and fully listens to his/her patient.

Has the ability to share information with you in a way you can understand.


Ask any questions you feel are important- none are too silly to ask.

What you should do:


Especially if you don't understand what the doctor is sayung or asking. Medical terms can be confusing, so if you doctor asks a question that is "technical",  Don't be afraid to ask for a clarification if you don't undertancd something.

Ask important questions that you have or feel are important to you.

What is my diagnosis?

How will my medical problem/diagnosis affect me?

How long will treatment last?


What you practitioner should do:

Be able to manage expectations of the patient and understand what comes next.


Tell your practitioner about all the medications that you are taking.

What you should do:

Even over the counter medications, vitamins and herbal remedies.

Ask your pharmacist!

Use only one pharmacy when possible.

Bring your medicines with you to the appointment.

Example - Arthritis herbal medicines, like Condrointon and Glucosamine.


What you practitioner should do:

Be able to help you understand why knowing all the medications that you take are impotant.


Make sure your practitioner allows enough time to hear your story

Even if he/she seems that they are rushed, take the time you need to explain how you feel.


Take Information Home

What you should do:

Take notes!

Ask for informational brochures or faq sheets. this will help you remember what to do, without relying on memory. No one remembers everything!

Ask for a written copy of any tests that your doctor gives you. You can use these to show the specialist or other doctors that you have.

Make sure that the nurse or office assistant gives you a list of all appointments for lab work and specialists.

Ate there any special instructions for these test or appointments?

If the doctor is rushed, ask to speak to a nurse to answer any questions you have not received an answer for, or to clarify what the doctor has said.


What you practitioner should do:

Provide all the information you need in written form.

Does your provider have a method of communicating with him/her easily such as e-mail?


Remember, you and your doctor are a team.

Health Care Proxy/Power of Attorney/Living Will.

You both are responsible for your health care and the quality of care that you receive.



1. Effective Patient - Doctor Communications About.com. Updated September 13th 2011.

2. Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People National Institute on Aging. April 2010.

3. Quick Tips—When Talking with Your Doctor US Department of Health and Human Resources. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. Revised March 2009.

4. Talking to Your Doctor US National Institute of Health. National Eye Institute.