Thinking back to childhood, I still have great affection for my physician, Dr. Judge. Visits to him never seemed rushed. He always carefully listened to my mother (and me), performed an unhurried physical examination, and patiently explained the diagnosis and treatment to us in his quiet office, which was attached to his family home. He was always kind and respectful. His only employee was a registered nurse, Janet, who always wore a clean, white, crisply starched uniform and cap. She greeted us when we entered the office, brought us back to the examination room, administered injections as well as assisted with procedures, and collected our payment before we left the office.
Fifty years later, these strong memories remain. Who cares? You might ask. That was then; this is now. What does this have to do with me? I understand. No one wants to live in the past.
My point is this: The qualities that Dr. Judge embodied which made him a good physician back then, make for a good physician today – and probably have from time immemorial.
Many things change over time and physicians today are busier than ever, for a myriad of reasons. In addition to an explosion in medical knowledge, insurance company and governmental regulations have expanded the demands on private practices, adding to the stress on the relationship between physicians and those they want to help. Still, you should expect your physician to exhibit some essential relationship skills (in addition to having good current medical knowledge and technical know-how). These include active listening skills, an unrushed demeanor, an ability to explain things free of medical jargon, and an ability to be nonjudgmental.
But there are also things that you, the patient or parent, can do to improve your communication with your health care provider.
Be prepared for your office visit. Write down the questions you would like answered. Then remember to use your list. Sometimes, when you are confronted with a difficult diagnosis or your child has just experienced a scary asthma attack, you may not be as together, calm or receptive as you normally would be. That’s why preparation is essential. A written list of questions can guide you during those moments when overwhelm is at a maximum. (Of course, try to keep it under two single-spaced, typewritten pages, so you don’t scare your doctor off!)
Questions attract, statements repel. Many of us, myself included, might be prone to point out behavior that we do not find helpful by bluntly making a statement about it. On the other hand, we are all inclined to give a thoughtful response to a question posed to us. For example, your physician explains something using medical jargon and it blows right by you. You could respond by making a statement such as, “That was complete gibberish, and I didn’t understand a thing” – sounding just a tad confrontational. Alternatively, you could say, “Gee, doc, I didn’t quite understand the last statement you made. Would you repeat that again to help me understand better?” You are likely to get (1) a more friendly response from your physician by asking the question and (2) meet your goal of understanding the diagnosis, treatment, etc.
In my lifetime, I’ve been on both sides of that conversation, and I’ve had my own favorable experiences (Dr. Judge) and not-so-favorable ones. How have you handled the rough patches in your relationship with your physician? Please share your tips!
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