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August 15, 2018

Doctor-Patient Communication: How to Effectively Communicate with Medical Specialists

Depending on your medical needs, your doctor may refer you to a medical specialist. Or, there may be a time when you request to see a medical specialist or speak with one during a hospital or emergency room visit. 

A visit with a specialist is often quicker than a visit with your primary care doctor because the specialist is likely to already be familiar with your case. Just because your visit is shorter, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have time to discuss your needs with this new doctor. Here are some tips on how to effectively communicate with medical specialists.

Ask for an explanation: If the specialist tells you you have a condition with which you aren’t familiar, ask for an explanation. You could start by saying, “I’m not familiar with this condition. Could you explain it to me?” Or “I have heard this condition causes these symptoms, how can I control them?”

Additionally, you can ask for written materials on the condition.

Seek a second opinion: If you’re diagnosed with a serious illness or told you need surgery, you may want to seek a second opinion. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, seeking a second opinion is a common practice and most doctors are not offended by it.

You will want to notify your doctor if you’re seeking a second opinion, as his or her office will have to share your medical records or any pathology results. And while you can ask your physician for a recommendation, it’s better to seek someone who is not affiliated with your current doctor’s office, health system or hospital.

Take someone with you: It can be overwhelming to remember everything you want to discuss during a regular appointment, so it’s understandable you may have even more questions during a hurried specialist visit. To help you remember everything you’d like to say as well as what the doctor tells you, consider taking a family or friend to your appointment.

If a support person can’t go with you, don’t worry. You can still use them as a sounding board for expressing your concerns. Before your appointment, you can talk through what you’d like to say, and the person may or may not have additional questions to add.

Ask for a follow-up appointment: Most doctors allowed patients to finish their “opening statement of concerns” only 23 percent of the time, according to one study. To make sure your concerns are heard, make a list of the most important ones and present them during your appointment. If you have a large list of concerns or aren’t able to discuss everything within your time slot, consider making a follow-up appointment to address everything.

Visiting a specialist doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Get the answers you need about your condition by preparing before your appointment, asking questions and following up when necessary.

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