5 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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If you tend to clam up when you’re stressed out, bring the loudest person in your emergency contacts list as your plus-one. “Anyone who can be firm and diplomatic and back you up is a good choice,” Dr. Donovan says.

3. Be the right kind of specific.

Whether you’re heading to a doctor’s appointment with a specific issue you want to talk through, or you’re just looking to get the clearest, most up-to-date picture of your health possible, the way you describe what’s happening in your body is critical.

“A lot of times, people will go on long, narrative excursions where they talk about what’s going on, but think about data” and real-life illustrations of what’s going on, Dr. Donovan says. ”Like, ‘My knee hurts when I walk up the stairs’ is a really good explanation of knee pain to a doctor, because you’re letting them know what activities are hurting it and you’re also explaining how it affects your daily life.” Details like symptom frequency and duration, along with any potential triggers, are helpful to zoom in on, too. Less, “I twisted my ankle when I was fighting with my boyfriend outside a Bad Bunny concert and I tripped on the curb getting into the Uber,” and more, “Ever since I tripped on a curb and twisted my ankle, when I walk around for more than an hour a day, my ankle swells up and feels stiff and sore until I wake up the next morning, which makes it hard for me to dance to ‘Monaco.’”

4. Be honest.

”Your doctor can only suggest the best treatment if you say what’s really going on,” Dr. Viola says. “Don’t just say what you think we want to hear.” That means being truthful about things like whether you use drugs and alcohol (and, if yes, how much and how frequently), whether you smoke (and how many cigarettes a day or week you smoke), how often you really exercise, and your sex life, to name a few things many people are too shy to discuss in front of the average stranger. According to Dr. Viola, the ol’ honesty policy also extends to asking questions in the moment, not just the ones you prepared pre-visit. (I know, I know—it never ends.) “If you’re confused or concerned about a diagnosis, or treatment, for that matter, always ask your doctor to explain it,” she says.

Be clear about your boundaries during a doctor’s visit. “A lot of people don’t like being weighed at their appointments,” Dr. Donovan says—for fat people especially, that can unfairly become the primary focus of a doctor’s appointment, even if you’re there for, like, a sore throat. “You can say, ‘No, I don’t want to get weighed this time,’ and unless there’s a specific reason, like, if it’s a prenatal appointment, [doctors are] usually fine with that.” (Here’s a guide to finding a fat-friendly doctor near you, also!)

Finally, if you’re seeing a doctor for a follow-up appointment, be honest about whether their prescribed treatment regimen actually worked for you—especially when the truth is that it…didn’t. “The last thing that I want is to think that I have a treatment plan that’s working, that I’ve addressed the condition we’re discussing, but the patient feels that it’s been an incomplete treatment,” Dr. Blanchard says. “I think, a lot of times, folks are worried about offending us or stepping on toes. But, honestly, in medicine, we don’t take it like that.”

5. Keep in touch.

So you did it—you went to the doctor. But do you know how to schedule a follow-up with the same person, or get in touch between appointments with questions? (If you’ve ever dealt with an inscrutable “portal,” you’ll understand that this is sometimes harder than it should be.)


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