Communicating With Your Doctor

Written by Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC

Just today, I realized that I had many things I needed to communicate to my doctor, but my next appointment isn't for another four weeks. Also, what I needed to say was just too complicated to explain to the administrative assistant who answers the phones for him. What to do? 

A Good Old-Fashioned Letter

Unless you have access to your doctor via email, I find that one of the best ways to keep the lines of communication open between appointments is to send my doctor letters. Now, these aren't long stories about my summer vacation and what movies I've seen lately. These letters are typed and double-spaced, containing the date, my name, address, phone number and date of birth. Most cruciall, they are concise and very clear in terms of my needs. 

My letters are broken down into three sections: 

1) Greeting paragraph: reminding the doctor of when I last saw him and any other pertinent information regarding that last visit. 

2) Report paragraph: containing whatever specific information I want to convey, usually bulleted or listed in a manner that is easy to read, with each issue separate from the others. 

3) Request paragraph: containing an itemized and bulleted list of what I am requesting from him at this time, including prescriptions, referrals, etc. 

A Paper Trail

Sending your doctor clear, concise letters is an excellent way to communicate with him or her, mostly because it creates a paper trail that both you and your provider (and his or her staff) can reference at any time. These letters become a part of your medical record, and thay may prove very helpful for you (when you store copies on your computer or in your files for future reference) and for your doctor, who can review them over time to track your progress. 

For administrative staff, such letters preclude the need to take copious notes during a phone call with you, erasing the possibility for anything being "lost in translation" over the phone. 

Open Lines of Communication

The important point in all of this is to drive home the fact that open lines of communication are a necessity where your healthcare is concerned. Phone calls are fine, but documenting your concerns and needs is a great way to be your own best healthcare advocate, creating the aforementioned paper trail that will allow you and your provider to stay in tune with one another between appointments. 

Keep those lines of communication open, find the most effective and efficient ways to communicate with your provider, and your care will improve exponentially!