How to Talk With Your Doctor When You Don’t Understand Him/Her

What should you do when you don’t understand your doctor?

When your doctor says things you don’t understand, ask him/her to stop and rephrase what s/he is saying.

One reason for malpractice suits is lack of proper follow-up care when the patient and his/her family do not fully understand the doctor’s instructions.

When something goes wrong, both the patient and the doctor suffer. Then, as often seems to be the case, lawyers step in to take advantage of an already awful situation. No wonder we’ve moved away from improved medical care to one weighed under expensive lawsuits with doctors covering their assests.

When your doctor appears to be running short on patience, explain how serious you are about your recovery

“Doctor, I feel you’re in a hurry, but I want to be sure I recover fully. Is there additional information beyond–list key points – I should know that we may not have covered?”

Since most patients won’t take this step, your doctor will likely pause to reconsider. Keep in mind, this is meant as a sincere comment from a patient vested in his/her own health care. (Doctors know that despite their efforts, some of their patients have no intention of following their recommendations.)

If the doctor still seems to be running on the fumes of patience, try this approach:

“Doctor, as we already know, the costs of malpractice suits threaten quality medical care. You and I are partners in my care and I need to be sure we have the same vision of your recommendations. We want a successful outcome of your treatment, right? [Pause here to allow doctor to digest.] Now, could you please explain why it is critical that I need to (doctor’s prescribed treatment)?”

Again, similar comments delicately phrased may encourage your doctor to communicate more clearly to prevent a mishap. If your doctor is still in a hurry, there may be a good reason. You may either leave and reschedule or if you also have an urgent need and the doctor has spent only a few minutes with you, ask what s/he suggests you do so you can receive the care you urgently need.

Keep the dialog open with questions.

How can we avoid misunderstandings?

Ask questions.

Keep asking questions and paraphrasing, repeating, and even writing down what the doctor says until you’re sure you understand.

Ask the doctor to listen to your words of understanding or to read your notes.

This adds another safety net under your care plan; thus, reducing any risk of an unintended outcome. Doctors are busy. You see them whip in and out of appointments. Stand your ground and be sure you understand fully what the doctor is recommending. your LIFE depends on it. A personal example will illustrate why this is so important:

After outpatient surgery, the doctor explained my care plan. I asked questions and he seemed rushed. He wanted to leave. Feeling pressured, I stopped asking and instead followed his post-surgical care plan to the letter.

Three days later, the wound healed closed from the outside. I didn’t realize then that this was bad. I began running a fever and then went into shock.

I was rushed to the medical center, given IV and oral antibiotics to stem the rapidly spreading infection.

The doctor neglected to explain that the wound must drain as it heals closed from the inside.

I had to return to surgery. This time, I insisted that my husband accompany me into the surgical room. Surprisingly, the doctor agreed. The doctor re-opened the wound and cleaned it out. David stood my ground until the doctor answered my questions to my satisfaction.

At one point, the doctor asked if my husband were threatening him, because David blocked the exit until all my questions were answered.

Let’s hope your doctor’s visit won’t go to this extreme. However, I share this experience, so you know how far you may have to go. If the infection was allowed to spread further, I might have died! You only have one life; so, ask questions and make sure the doctor listens to your understanding of your follow-on medical care.

You may just save a life – yours or your loved one’s.