The Kidney TRUST

How to Talk to Your Doctor

Being open and honest with your doctor is one of the most vital things you can do to improve your own care. When you work with your doctor, you feel more in control of your health and more confident in the care you receive.

The notion of talking to a doctor and making decisions about care is scary for some people. We’ll give you some tips for talking to your doctor — to help make you part of the care team.

Your Job: Become Your Own Expert

When you have a chronic health problem, you are the most important member of your care team. Your doctor cares for hundreds or even thousands of patients. You are the only one who is managing your care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the long haul.

Also, over a lifetime with a chronic condition, you may have a doctor who retires, moves away, or you may change doctors yourself. Being your own expert will help you to get the best care possible.

Each person’s body responds a little differently to a disease and to drugs and other treatments. Your job as someone with a chronic disease is to:

  • Stay hopeful. New treatments come out all the time, and research is always being done. Studies show that keeping positive can even help people live longer!
  • Learn all you can about your illness and treatment, and what is normal for you. Then you can tell your doctor when you have a problem, question, or concern. Learning all you can will also help you follow your treatment plan. Our Kidney Diagnosis Guide will help you find out where to look to learn more.
  • Find support. You can learn a lot about new breakthroughs, the best doctors, how to handle day-to-day symptoms, and much more if you find others who have the same problem. Read our Kidney Diagnosis Guide. For each cause of kidney disease, we list sources of support. In many cases, these are on-line, so you don’t even have to leave your home to find help and understanding.
  • Take action to get the best care you can. You are the one who has the most at stake. Keeping your job, your lifestyle, and your health can depend on getting the right care and making good healthcare choices. Find your way to the best treatment, and you are the one who can benefit. Don’t just rely on others to help you. Help yourself, too.

Sometimes people think that a doctor is an expert in every aspect of medicine. These days, there is so much to know that no one doctor could ever master it all. Even a specialist may not know about your condition if it rare. Seeking out a doctor who is an expert in your problem will help you get the care you need. You may also need to check to be sure that your doctors are talking to each other to coordinate your care.

Preparing for Your Visit

To take an active role on the care team, you need to prepare to talk to your doctor. Here is a checklist to help you plan your visit.

  • Ask for a longer appointment. If you have a lot to discuss, ask the receptionist to add an extra 15 minutes to your visit when you schedule it. Then you won’t feel rushed to ask all of your questions, and your doctor won’t feel rushed to meet the next patient.
  • Define your goals for the visit. What do you want to get out of it? Do you want simple answers to your questions, or do you want to change the course of your treatment? Knowing your goals will help you meet them before you leave the office.
  • Bring with you:
    1. A list of questions in order of importance (in case you don’t get through them all). Such as:
      • How much kidney function do I have now?
      • Can you suggest a kidney specialist for me?
      • What caused my kidney disease?
      • Will my problem get worse?
      • What can I do to preserve my kidney function?
    2. A list of all of your current drugs, vitamins, and supplements, or bring them along in a bag.
    3. A list of symptoms you have and when you have them.
    4. Notes on your family medical history (which family member, age, illness, and, if deceased, cause of death).
    5. Insurance information, blood test results or medical records that you have, an Advance Directive if you have one, and contact information for your other doctors.
    6. Your medical history (health problems, treatments, surgeries, allergies, etc.).
    7. A pen and paper to write down answers and take notes!

Some doctors’ offices will send you forms to fill out before your visit. These forms often ask for some of the things listed above. If not, do write your own list before the visit.

Getting the Most from Your Visit

Once your clinic day arrives, bring all of the items on your list. Arrive early to fill out any forms the doctor’s office may have. If you can, bring along a support person. It’s good to have a second pair of ears, as well as someone to remind you of questions you may forget to ask.

Be clear with the doctor about why you set up the visit. Tell him or her that you have questions about your disease and treatment

To get the most out of your visit with your doctor, follow these tips:

  • Explain what you know up front. Your doctor is likely to assume that you know nothing about your condition — and perhaps you don’t. But if you have done some homework and learned about your illness, you can start off at a different place. The only way your doctor can know what you know is if you tell him or her.
  • Be Honest. Tell your doctor everything you know about your body, health, and lifestyle. If your doctor doesn’t have all the facts, he or she may miss something that is key to your care plan
  • Listen actively. Pay attention to what the doctor is saying — instead of planning your response while he or she is talking. This way you won’t miss any vital facts or instructions you are given.
  • Be calm and respectful. Make eye contact and speak to the doctor as you would like to be spoken to. You need a health advocate on your team who respects you, and the best way to earn respect is by giving it.
  • Use “I” statements. “I” statements clearly and directly express how you feel without placing blame. For example, instead of saying, “you haven’t been listening to me!” you might say, “I feel like you may have missed something I said. Let me try again.” This can help the doctor focus on what’s really important — meeting your needs, rather than on defending him or herself.
  • Speak up if you don’t understand. Doctors sometimes forget that others don’t understand medical terms. Ask for plain language when you are unclear about something. Make sure you don’t leave until you understand all that you’ve been told. Ask for take-home pamphlets about things that aren’t clear.
  • Take notes. Write down answers to your questions and instructions you are given. Repeat the instructions back to be sure you heard the doctor correctly.

Before you leave the office, ask whom you can contact in case you have more questions.

You Have a Choice

A good relationship with your doctor takes time. However, at the very least you should feel that your doctor understands your case and welcomes you as part of the care team.

A good doctor should:

  • Give you information you need in language you can understand.
  • Tell you your choices and give you his or her expert advice.
  • Support your efforts to help yourself.
  • Respect your knowledge about your own body.

You deserve to feel comfortable and respected. If you are not happy with your doctor, set up a visit to talk to him or her about what you need and expect and don’t feel that you have been getting. Some people have found that this can make a big difference, and can change a relationship with a doctor so it works. If this doesn’t work, and you’re still unhappy, change doctors — it’s your right to have a doctor that you can work with.

To find a new doctor, you can ask your doctor to refer you, talk to others you know with the same health problem, do research on-line, or set up visits with doctors until you find one you can work with.

Good communication is a two-way street. Talk openly with your doctor, sharing your needs, questions, and concerns. By being an active partner in your care, you benefit the most and improve your treatment results.