The way healthcare providers communicate with their patients can significantly affect health outcomes and patient satisfaction. (2) Many healthcare systems model their communication strategies on patient-centered care, a model that aims to create a comfortable environment for patients, encouraging patients to openly describe their concerns and ask questions. (1)
For many reasons, verbal communication with healthcare professionals can be challenging. Many health care conversations include personal topics, and time with medical professionals is typically limited. Fortunately, there are many ways to communicate effectively with your healthcare team.
4 tips for communicating with healthcare professionals
Whether you’re starting with a new doctor or continuing with the doctor you’ve seen for years, effective communication is an important part of the medical visit. Consider these top tips for good communication skills during your next medical appointment.
1. Come prepared
Healthcare providers, especially primary care providers, often have limited time to talk with patients during their visit, with the average visit time only lasting about 17 minutes. (6) Having a simple plan for your visit can help you make the most of your appointment. Compiling a list of your questions and concerns leading up to your appointment is an easy way to prepare for a health care visit. Consider noting any new symptoms, adverse effects, and other questions you may have. (3)
If this is a first-time visit, family medical history and medication and supplement use are also important to disclose. Other health care essentials include insurance cards, medical records, and contact information for the other healthcare professionals that you see. (5)
2. Be honest
Clear, effective communication from patients and healthcare providers is essential for patient safety and better patient outcomes. Healthcare providers need to know a lot about you to provide the best care. Patient confidentiality is protected by healthcare organizations, so it’s ideal to be as open and honest as possible during your medical visit—even if the topic seems sensitive or embarrassing. (3)
Lack of transparency leads to poor communication between you and your healthcare provider which may negatively impact your health. Good communication ensures that you and your practitioner are in agreement about your treatment plan and reduces the chance for medical errors. (3)
3. Ask questions
Patient understanding is a key factor in health care communication. Whether its about following your treatment plan or clarifying a specific medical term, asking questions is an important part of getting the best patient care. If you can’t see or hear your healthcare provider well, it’s okay to ask for accommodations, such as asking them to speak more slowly. (5)
It’s important to communicate effectively because this may be the last time you connect with your healthcare provider before your next medical visit. Before the end of the visit, make sure you understand your diagnosis, treatment plan, and anything else that might affect your health. Questions to consider asking your healthcare provider include:
- What trusted websites can I use to learn more about my diagnosis?
- What side effects may I experience from my new treatment plan?
- How can I access my medical records online?
- What are the next steps of my treatment plan?
- What is the best way to contact you if I have any further questions?
- When should I book my next appointment? (3)(4)
4. Consider bringing a companion
Involving one of your family members, your spouse, or a friend in your health care can be a helpful way to ensure you get the most out of your medical visit. A companion may ask questions you didn’t think about, help explain recent symptoms, and take notes on what the healthcare provider discusses with you. Communicate with your companion beforehand so they too understand how you would like them to help during your appointment. (3)(5)
The bottom line
Time with healthcare providers is often limited. Make the most of your visit by coming prepared, being honest, and asking questions. Without effective communication, medical care, patient satisfaction, and health outcomes may be affected. To learn more about how you can have a productive medical visit, contact your healthcare provider.
- Hashim, M. J. (2017). Patient-centered communication: Basic skills. American Family Physician, 95(1), 29–34.
- King, A., & Hoppe, R. B. (2013). “Best practice” for patient-centered communication: A narrative review. Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 5(3), 385–393.
- National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Taking control of your mental health: Tips for talking with your health care provider. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/tips-for-talking-with-your-health-care-provider
- National Institutes of Health. (2015). Talking with your doctor. NIH News in Health. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/06/talking-your-doctor
- National Institutes of Health. (2020). How to prepare for a doctor’s appointment. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-prepare-doctors-appointment
- Tai-Seale, M., McGuire, T. G., & Zhang, W. (2007). Time allocation in primary care office visits. Health Services Research, 42(5), 1871–1894.