When you visit your doctor’s office, do you sometimes find it difficult to explain how you’re feeling? And when your doctor provides you with a diagnosis or recommendations, do you feel overwhelmed by what they tell you? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, millions of adults in the United States struggle with the same issue.
The ability to clearly describe how you feel and understand what your doctor tells you is called health literacy, and it’s an essential part of your health care journey. Health literacy has little to do with reading and writing—it’s all about communication. It's also not a suggestion of a person’s intelligence, as patients of every education level are susceptible to confusion when it comes to health care.
Good communication in the patient-doctor relationship is the foundation of care. Your fitness depends on knowing where you stand in your health. If you aren’t able to understand your doctor and follow what they recommend, you could be compromising your well-being. Take control of your health by arriving for each appointment confident and prepared by following these few practices.
Ask the right questions
At the end of your doctor’s appointment, it’s normal to have many questions. The time you spend with your physician is short, and the information they share can move very quickly, leaving you flustered.
But there is an easy way to navigate the conversation with your doctor. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHC) created a series of simple, memorable questions to help you grasp everything you need to know about your visit. Before you leave your doctor’s office, remember to ask the Ask Me 3® questions:
The answers to these questions will help you further familiarize yourself with your health care and assist you in recognizing what next steps you may need to take on your own. But remember: these questions are just a starting point. If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask! Your doctor and their staff want to help you, and they will be more than happy to assure you have every answer you need.
Get everything in writing
No one expects you to remember everything said to you during a medical appointment. You may even feel self-conscious about taking too much of the doctor’s time (you shouldn’t!) or embarrassed about asking the staff to repeat themselves (that’s OK to do, too!) It can be very helpful to have your diagnosis, next steps, and any recommendations from your doctor in writing.
Ask for a written note detailing everything you should know about your visit—it will serve as a valuable reminder for any future appointments and help you attain further clarity of your health status.
Tip: Many doctor’s offices and health clinics, including CCI Health & Wellness Services, offer an online portal that allows patients to view their medical records from their homes. Ask a staff member at your primary care office for more information.
Visual aids help you learn
Next time you’re in your doctor’s office, look around the exam room and pay attention to what you see—you’ll likely notice posters on the walls, models of the anatomy, and other resources within view. Ask if any of these resources accurately explain your medical condition as your physician may be able to use them to demonstrate better what’s going on in your body and why.
If there aren’t any relevant visual aids available in the office, you can ask your doctor if they can point you in the direction to learn more about your health status through images or video. In addition, they may have written materials for you to keep or can provide you with websites to visit for more information.
Tip: YouTube features many health-related videos spanning different languages, which can be very useful. But be careful with what you research or read online—there is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and the wrong information could put you at risk. Always double-check with your doctor before attempting to self-medicate. Only visit reputable websites like WebMD for any health research you conduct.
Call back if you need to
When you get home from your appointment, you may soon realize that you have more questions for your doctor that you didn’t think of when you were in their office. You don’t need to wait until your next appointment to get the answers that you’re looking for. You can call your doctor’s office at any time during business hours to speak with a staff member who will be able to assist you.
If the office is closed when you call, you may have the chance to leave a message. Don’t be shy! Let the staff know what you need, and they will reach back out to you when they return to the office. It can even be preferable to leave a message as it gives staff more time to investigate your questions and reach out to you with the most accurate information.
Tip: If leaving a voicemail, be sure to speak slowly and clearly. Otherwise, your doctor’s office staff may be unsure of what you need and may take longer to get back to you.
Maybe it's time for a change
Good communication doesn’t just fall on you—it’s your doctor’s responsibility to explain things to you in a way that you can understand. If you have had several issues in the past because of communication issues with your medical provider and they haven’t tried to fix the disconnect, it may be time to look elsewhere for your health care. A great way to find a new provider is to ask a friend or family to recommend someone. 10 tips for choosing a primary care doctor | Consejos: cómo escoger un doctor
Tip: Make sure your health insurance plan covers the doctor you would like to see. You should be able to call your health insurance company to verify if the physician is in-network. Check the back of your coverage card for a phone number.
If you live in Montgomery County or Prince George’s counties and you’re looking for a new health care provider that is receptive to you and your goals, then we invite you to reach out to us here at CCI Health & Wellness Services. Our medical staff provides patients with attentive care centered on their culture, language, and values. We are as diverse as the community we serve—and no matter who you are or where you’re from, you will feel welcomed at our health centers.
All CCI’s health services are offered on a sliding scale, meaning you only pay what you can. We don’t turn anyone away from care. If you’d like to learn more about receiving care from us, give us a call at (866) 877-7258.
Empower yourself through your health
- What is my main problem?
- What do I need to do?
- Why is it important for me to do this?
Your family, friends, and neighbors all care for you and want to see you live a long, fulfilling life—but no one can advocate for your health in the way that you can. So always make sure that you are proactive in your care. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions or look for clarification from your health provider. And above everything, never feel ashamed if you need more information or assistance understanding your health—it serves as proof of your dedication to your well-being.