How to Talk With Your Doctor

Last updated: December 2022

It was 9:23 am on a Monday morning and I was waiting in my second room for my dermatologist. My appointment was at 9:00 am and there was no sign of my doctor. I am sitting in a cold, rock-hard chair, clothed in my underwear and skimpy, discount patient gown.

Then, I hear him. Evidently, he’s back from his vacation in the...Caribbean. I am his first patient back after his Club Med vacation. He has gone from sipping pina coladas and wading in crystal clear, warm beach water to staring at my moley back. Yay him! Yay me! All I could think about was that I was trusting him to find any sign of melanoma on my skin and he was still finding sand in his ears.

Practice what you preach

My doctor finally strolls into my waiting room…and he is…tan, er sunburned, even.

How do I even deal with this?

Doctors can be intimidating. Most wear these fancy lab coats with all kinds of gadgets in their pockets. Many use terms and phrases that few can understand. They have diplomas and certifications on their walls. Some drive European cars. Others are eight handicaps on the golf course. Some are into their work like it’s a life-long hobby. Others seem to be biding their time.

Communication skills important for doctors

One thing that rings true for all of them. Great communication is critical to good health care. But, how do we do that?

That “pragmatic” doctor

This doctor is very practical and straightforward. He is all about the facts and consequences. She is very logical in her approach and prides herself on being objective. He “tells it like it is.” At worst she can come off as too clinical and may not seem concerned about her patient’s feelings.

There is no guessing with this type of doctor. I like this type of physician, if I am in a good mental and physical state. I can handle the hard truth, if I am rested, well fed, and in a good place.

My recommendation: Get to the point. Don’t look for sympathy and empathy here. Bring a support person to your appointment, if possible.

The “calendar driven” doctor

This doctor wants to keep a strict schedule and begin and end each appointment on time. He is punctual and wants to “get to the point.” She is not interesting in a lot of extraneous conversation or irrelevant backstory. He is most interested in short answers and not paragraphs.

I am ok with this doctor, if I am prepared to share my specific concerns. I hate being rushed when it comes to my health. I can understand the importance of being considerate of other patients by being timely.

My recommendation: Prepare ahead of time with very specific questions and observations, prioritizing the most important.

The “relational” doctor

This doctor may be running late because they want to connect with previous patients. He wants to know about your weekend. She asks about your family and job. He cares about your feelings. She understands the impact of your diagnosis on your overall well-being. He explains everything in terms that you understand.

I love this kind of physician, even if it means I will have to wait.

My recommendation: Clear your calendar and be thankful for a doctor who makes it personal. Have a productive chat.

The “bad” doctor

This doctor is short with you AND doesn’t seem to know what he is doing. He is doesn’t explain test results or treatments. She seems more interested in patients who have the best insurance. He is late because he is not considerate.

My recommendation: Run, if you have the option to find another doctor. If you have no other choices, then stand your ground and frame the conversation in terms of your desires and expectations. Remember that YOU are your best advocate and that your physician works for you.

I found another doctor.

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