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Tips for Communicating With Your Doctor

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The National Institutes of Health offers the following guidance for any doctor's appointment beyond the routine:

Don't go it alone. There's going to be too much information coming at you for you to comprehend it, process it and come up with questions, particularly if you're trying to keep a squirmy toddler under control. The other parent is the obvious choice. But also think about bringing a good friend, someone who cares about you but is more likely to be able to think clearly while taking in potentially bad news. Another good NIH thought if all else fails: Bring a tape recorder.

Don't be afraid to look stupid. Insist that the doctor help you understand. Doctors are trained to diagnose, to treat, to cut, but not always to communicate. Use such phrases as "so what you're saying is . . . " and then try to put the news in your own words. If that's not right, make the doctor explain it again. Never nod knowingly while a doctor uses a bunch of phrases you don't understand.

Carry a notebook. No matter how good your memory is under normal circumstances, you might forget some of what the doctor said. The notebook could be an important reference tool two hours after the appointment, or two months later. Also, ask your doctor for any brochures she might have about the child's condition.

Treat the doctor as a partner in the care of your child. That means you shouldn't be submissive to the doctor, but you also shouldn't be disrespectful. If your child has a chronic condition, this could be an ongoing relationship. Base it, like all good relationships, on mutual respect and trust.

If your child is old enough to be part of the conversation, don't allow the doctor to discuss your child's situation in front of him as if he weren't in the room. Either make the doctor involve your child in the discussion or ask to talk to the doctor privately with the child out of earshot.

Ask the doctor what is the best way to get in touch with him if other questions occur to you later. (They will.)

-- Tracy Grant

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