How to Talk to Your Doctor
Whether you’ve been living with diabetes for years or you’re newly diagnosed, communicating with your healthcare team is one of the best things you can do. If you’re nervous about opening up to your doctor or pharmacist, there are some good reasons to conquer these fears. Less communication leads to measurable increases in your stress, anxiety, and possible depression. It also leads, inevitably, to less frequent and less successful diabetes management.1
Since communicating with your healthcare providers is proven to be good for your health, here are some guidelines for starting the conversation and keeping it going.
Know who’s on your healthcare team.
If you don’t already know the people involved in your healthcare, get to know them. Your healthcare team could include:
- Primary care provider
- Nurse or certified diabetes educator
- Eye doctor
You may not need to see everyone on this list, but it is a good idea to know who to turn to when you have specific questions.
You have a say in your healthcare.
The most important member of your healthcare team is you! Other than doing what it takes to manage diabetes day-to-day, this also means that you have a say in your treatment. In fact, your healthcare provider should explain your diagnosis and all of your treatment options to you so that you can make an informed decision with regard to your health. The World Health Organization provides a great overview of informed consent, including which treatments require written consent (like surgery) and what you should expect to happen during the informed consent process.2
How much do you want to know?
Sometimes the medical details can be overwhelming or intimidating. If you would rather not know these details right away, feel free to tell your doctor or pharmacist. Just make sure you find a comfortable balance between what you want to know and what you need to know in order to successfully manage your diabetes. If knowing every clinical detail puts your mind at ease and makes you feel more in control, tell your doctor this, too.
Know what to discuss and ask about.
You will likely have general questions you’d like to ask your healthcare provider when you see them—new symptoms, any changes to your treatment, etc. It’s best to get those out of the way first. Make sure you also ask questions about sensitive topics or any other issue that is important to you. And if you’ve decided to add alternative medicines or treatments to your regimen, be open and honest with your team. These conversations are for a good cause: your health!
Do you know about your medical tests?
It’s important to take the medical tests your healthcare provider requests, but make sure you ask questions about them too. Some questions to ask:
- Is there anything you need to do before the test?
- What will the test measure?
- How will the test influence any changes to your treatment?
- Are there risks to taking the test?
- How will you be informed about the results?
Know what to do before and after your appointment.
If you know there are issues you need to discuss with your healthcare provider, organize your thoughts ahead of time. Jotting them down and bringing the list of questions to the appointment can keep the meeting on track and make you feel confident that you’re getting the information you need. After your appointment, don’t hesitate to follow up if you have questions about your treatment. For example, if you received test results that you don’t understand, make a phone call.
Problems talking to your healthcare provider?
Yes, doctors are busy, but they are there to serve you and there is no reason for you to delay or forego getting the information you need about your health. If you can’t seem to get a clear answer from your doctor on an issue, try saying, “I don’t understand [this topic]. Can you take a few minutes to explain it to me?” If your healthcare provider can’t make the time for a conversation, offer to make an appointment for a phone call to discuss your concerns. An “advocate”, a friend, or family member that understands more about diabetes can also help by going to medical appointments with you. Never give up on getting the knowledge you need.
Talk about these at every appointment.
- New symptoms
- Changes to your treatment
- Sensitive topics
- The issues most important to you
- Taking medical tests and getting the results
- Anything you don’t understand about your health
1 Diabetes Care. Look Who’s (Not) Talking: Diabetic patients’ willingness to discuss self-care with physicians. Available at: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/35/7/1466.short?rss=1 Accessed June 30, 2015.
2 World Health Organization. The Process of Seeking Informed Consent. Available at: http://www.who.int/rpc/research_ethics/Process_seeking_IF_printing2.pdf Accessed June 30, 2015