Removing Communication Barriers -
The Key to Improving Communication with Your Doctor

By M. Chris Wolf, PH.D.

One of the keys to effective healthcare is removing communication barriers between the patient and the physician. Many people feel intimidated when they are involved in a conversation with their physician because they do not understand the terminology the doctor uses. Others patients might experience frustration because they do not think the doctor "hears" their concerns. These problems are compounded when the patient has memory loss, since the patient will likely have difficulty tracking the information the doctor is conveying as well as retaining what is being said by the physician.

Some techniques involved in removing communication barriers include:

1. Keep a journal and bring it with you to your appointments. It is easy to keep a small notebook to write down concerns and bring it to you appointment. To enhance this strategy, review your journal with a family member or loved one to group and prioritize your concerns.

2. If you do not understand what the doctor is saying, ask the doctor to say it in a different way. Many times doctors and other healthcare providers speak in verbal shorthand that is difficult to understand. If you do not understand what the doctor is saying, ask for the doctor to use simpler language or to use an example. Many healthcare providers also have handouts about different disorders and treatments that are written especially for patients.

3. Could there be another cause of my problems? In a book by Dr. Jerome Groopman titled How Doctors Think he notes that doctors will often anchor there diagnosis with the most common problems coming into the office. It’s important that you stimulate the doctor to consider alternatives.

4. Ask questions about new medications. When the doctor prescribes new medications, be sure to ask about possible drug interactions, especially with any over the counter medications or supplements. Verify the dosage, the expected benefits of the drug and ask if there are any side effects. It is helpful to write this information in a notebook so it is available for future reference.

5. Make sure to follow-up on any tests that were done. One study indicated that as much as ¼ of all abnormal reports are never passed along to the patient. Always call the doctors office to get test results.

6. Discuss your concerns at the beginning of the appointment. It is frustrating for both the doctor and the patient when an important issue is mentioned at the end of the appointment. The physician is might be on the way to see the next patient, and might rush through assessing the concern or it might warrant a change to your treatment regime.

7. Bring a family member along to the appointment. Many times healthcare provides convey a great deal of information in a brief visit. When there is a family member or friend with the patient, there are two people available to jot notes about the visit.

8. For serious diagnoses always get a second opinion. A friend of mine was scheduled for breast surgery. After she got a second opinion at a major cancer center, she found out that she did not have cancer and the breast surgery was not necessary.

These are just a few of many ideas to assist both patients and caregivers to removing communication barriers with their physician.

For more information about removing communication barriers consider these resources:

Improve My Memory

How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman

Doctors Talking with Patients/Patients Talking with Doctors: Improving Communication in Medical Visits by Debra Roter and Judith A. Hall

For more information on this topic see:

Medication Communication with your Doctor

Communication Barriers

Caregiver Burdens

Caregiving Resoruces

Return from Removing Communication Barriers to Caregiver Stress


Return to Memory Loss Facts

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