How Can You Make Sure Your Doctor Is Really Listening to You?

One of the biggest deterrents to medical errors is to establish clear, open communication between doctor and patient—however, sometimes a doctor visit can feel like you’re just being processed through the system without actually being heard. The primary reason is that your doctor sees many patients a day, and between following established protocols and perhaps a bit of fatigue, she might be running through the checkup on autopilot. What can you do to politely break that pattern to ensure your doctor really hears and responds to your concerns?

Make a List of Concerns

One way to keep your conversation on track is to come in to your appointment with a list of topics you want to address—including describing your symptoms and asking questions. Refer to the list during your appointment and try not make sure all the points are checked off before the doctor exits. This not only helps you avoid getting distracted and sidetracked, but it also shows the doctor that you are engaged in the conversation and prompts him to pay more attention.

Give a Narrative Response to Closed-Ended Questions

The doctor’s checklist usually prompts the patient to give simple yes/no responses or answers of 2-3 words. Avoid this snare. Leana Wen, MD, author of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests, recommends treating yes/no questions as though they are how/why questions, effectively providing context. When asked if your arm hurts, for example, don’t just say “yes.” Try telling the doctor when it began hurting, what you took for it, and whether or not it helped.

Ask Lots of Questions

Another effective way to ensure you have your doctor’s attention is to ask relevant questions during the appointment to get her thinking more directly about your situation. If she recommends a certain medicine, for example, ask what it does and what the side effects are. If you are discussing a possible surgery, ask for details about the procedure, the risks and how it will help your situation. Answering these questions helps keep the doctor’s mind in the moment with you and helps her focus more acutely on coming up with healthcare solutions that work for your needs, rather than simply offering a cookie-cutter solution that might not be a good fit for everyone.

If a doctor misdiagnoses you in a way that you feel is negligent and causes harm, our Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can advise you and represent your interests. Give us a call to learn more.