Communication – A two-way street between health care provider and patient

Posted on September 14, 2021   |   
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This blog article was written by Christina Hunt, BS, RRT, Director of Bronchiectasis and NTM Research and Education at the COPD Foundation.

The outcome every patient wants from good communication with their health care provider is a plan. A plan to help them feel better or cope with their condition . However, somewhere between “signing-in” and “riding home” patients often find themselves still with questions and a lack of confidence regarding their needs being met. As a healthcare provider, a respiratory therapist, I want to know that when you leave our time together that you have taken the advice and feedback that I have given you and will do your best to implement the plan at home. The question to be asked is, “How can we improve the communication between health care provider and patient?”

Here are some tips for improving communication with your health care providers to ensure that your needs have been met and all your concerns have been addressed.

  • Prepare some talking points: Your doctor or health care provider only gets a “snapshot” of how you are doing when you arrive at your appointment. Sometimes, this “snapshot” is very telling, and your needs can immediately be addressed. Other times, a health care provider requires more background on what symptoms you are experiencing and how your life is being impacted by your condition. Make a list of talking points that you would like to discuss with your health care provider. A list of talking points will help you remember to mention details that may be important for your health care provider know.
  • Show and Tell: Your appointment is your time in the spotlight. Share any information that you feel may be helpful in treating your condition. Bring a list of your current medications with you to review with your health care provider. If you are having trouble with a piece of medical equipment (like a CPAP machine or nebulizer), feel free to bring it with you so they can teach you how to use it properly.
  • Consider the “buddy system”: Doctor’s visits can provide a wealth of information on your condition. Health care providers can provide feedback, tips, and a plan of care. All these things mount up to a ton of information for the patient to digest. It is easy to miss some important details while you are chatting with your healthcare provider. Consider asking a friend or loved one to come with you to your visit. Having a second set of ears to listen and perhaps take notes may help to catch details that may be missed or forgotten. You can review these details at home together to make sure the advice of the health care provider is implemented and that you are clear on a plan of care.
  • Be an active listener. Active listening requires that you fully concentrate on what is being said rather than just passively “hearing” the message of the speaker. Be sure to use eye contact, nod your head when you understand, and refrain from doodling or fidgeting. Feel free to stop the speaker if you don’t understand and ask questions for clarity. I find it helpful to use phrases like, “What I am hearing you say is….” or “This is what I am hearing…. Is this correct?” These types of statements signal to your health care provider that you do or don’t understand the information and feedback that they are giving. At times, it may inspire them to convey things differently. Remember, there are no “stupid questions” when it comes to understanding your plan of care.
  • Be clear on expectations: Find out if a follow-up appointment is needed. You should also ask how best to contact the health care provider if you have questions or if you experience worsening symptoms. Ask questions like, “What are some red flags that indicate I should contact you or seek emergency care?” “Will I be seen right away if my symptoms don’t improve?”
  • Learn how to access your medical record: Technology is proving to be useful these days by allowing patients to easily access their digital medical record. Ask your health care provider if they offer an online portal for you to view your medical record. This will allow you to view test results and treatment plans associated with your diagnosis.

Communication with your health care team is of the utmost importance when managing any chronic condition. I am confident that if you utilize some of these techniques while interacting with your health care provider, you will notice improved interaction and have more confidence in your plan of care moving forward.