10 Ways to Make Your Doctor Understand

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Often, individuals struggle with how to find the words to explain their symptoms to their doctor effectively. This is very important information for the doctor to have in order to provide an accurate diagnosis.

On average, a medical interview is only about ten minutes, so you must be able to present your information in a very simple and concise manner, just as they were taught in med school.

You must make sure that you provide all of the information and don’t leave anything of importance out. Following are ten tips to help you to do this.

– First of all, make sure that you have an up-to-date patient profile with you. You can do this by jotting down a summary of your medical history on one page. Include dates and reasons for any surgeries or hospital stays.

You may or may not need it, but at least you have it if questions regarding your medical history are asked.

Having this will also increase the time you’ll be able to spend on your current medical problems. Additionally, make sure you bring current medications and herbal supplements.

– Summarize the reason for your visit in 1-2 sentences. Most of the time, doctors start a visit by asking something such as “what’s going on that brings you in today?” If you prepare to answer this in advance, it will help the process move more smoothly.

Common symptoms include: pain, fever, headache, breathing problems, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and confusion.

– Let them know about the timing and onset of your symptoms, making sure that you include frequency, stops, and starts. Be ready with dates and times if at all possible.

Let the doctor know if you feel worse in the mornings or evenings and if there’s a specific time of month that the symptoms seem to flare up.

– Let the doctor know if there’s something that makes your symptoms worse or better. Pay attention to whether a movement makes pain worse or makes it better.

Also, make it clear if there are any positions, food/drinks, activities or medications that relieve symptoms. For example, if ibuprofen makes your headache better, but its back in an hour and a half or so.

– Use adjective to fully describe symptoms. For example, everyone knows that not all pain is the same. You can have sharp or dull pain and it can be deep inside or on the surface.

The point is not to wax poetic about your symptoms, it’s simply to point out to your doctor what makes this different than you’ve felt before.

– Point out the location of the symptoms. For example, if you’re experiencing pain that seems to move, tell the doctor. For example, the headache started in the back of my head, but now has moved around my eyes.

– Rate your symptoms on a scale of one to ten. For example, if you’re in pain, number one should be almost no pain and ten is the worst possible pain you can imagine.

Be completely honest and don’t minimize or exaggerate your pain. In the eyes of most medical professionals, a “10 out of 10” pain makes a person nearly unable to speak or do anything except read or eat.

10 Ways to Make Your Doctor Understand

– Describe where you were and what was going on when the symptoms presented. Think about where you were and what you were doing or what was around you.

Was the setting and activities different than your normal routine? Think about what you were doing right before the symptoms occurred as well as what was going on earlier that day. All of this could help your physician reach an accurate diagnosis.

– Consider other things that are going on at the same time as your major symptoms. For example, have people said you look pale, or have your bowel movements changed? Are you going to the bathroom more often or less? Have you lost or gained a significant amount of weight in a short period of time?

Know that the doctor will examine you according to the symptoms you described and may order more testing or prescribe a treatment or trial treatment.

Things to Remember

You should never be afraid to talk to your doctor about symptoms, no matter how embarrassed you may be. The quicker you let your doctor know about something, the quicker you’ll be able to be treated and cured.

If you’re forgetful or easily flustered, or you’re not sure how to accurately explain your problem, consider bringing along a friend or family member with you to help.

Many times, when talking to a doctor will go blank. Make sure to bring along a notebook with notes about questions you want to be sure to ask.

Also, jot down what the doctor says. Many times, patients remember things afterward that they want to ask or forget what was said and are embarrassed to call back about it.

Never wait until the end of the visit to say, “…and by the way….” This is very inconvenient, and though you may think it is minor, it could be something significant enough to require an entirely different plan of treatment.

Be completely upfront and honest in the beginning before they work on their diagnosis and treatment plan.

When talking to your doctor, it is crucial to your health that you be completely honest. Doctors are required to keep confidence, so you should be honest about every dirty detail.

If you’re in the worst pain of your life, don’t be sipping on a drink, reading magazines, and answering your cell phone. On the other hand, if it’s your toe or finger that’s hurting, the doctor shouldn’t enter the room with you lying on the table in a hospital gown.

Know your own health history. It can be very frustrating to you and your doctor to be in the visit trying to put together your history.

Also, to save time and make it clear to the doctor, consider the symptoms you’re experiencing before you go to the visit.

Of course, if the doctor is asking logical questions and hitting all the points, it may not be necessary to actively follow these steps. A professional that is well trained will be able to get all the points without you having to make sure they do.


Unless you’re sure about your diagnosis, discuss your symptoms only. You may think it’s going to save some time by saying “I think I have….” However, this can actually derail the medical interview. Instead, open the discussion with symptoms you’re experiencing.

If your doctor doesn’t seem to be providing you with satisfactory answers, don’t get upset and angry. However, you should express your worry and concern. You don’t want the doctor to see you as a “difficult patient” or a possible lawsuit.

If you are getting frustrated and feel like you’re getting nowhere and can’t stay calm, go back for another visit some other time or consider seeking a second opinion.

Of course, these tips help most when you’re visiting a doctor that has not met you before or if you’re experiencing a new medical issue. They don’t really apply if you’re talking to your regular family doctor about a chronic problem you’re experiencing.

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