Talking to Your Health Care Provider

Guest Post, David Mapletoft, Diabetes Educator

The single most important way you can stay healthy is to be an active member of your own health care team. One way to get high-quality health care based on fact is to find and use information and take an active role in all of the decisions made about your care.

This information will help you when talking with your team – be it your doctor, your diabetes educator, your dietitian or any other member of your health care team (HCP’S).

Research has shown that patients who have good relationships with their HCPs tend to be more satisfied with their care—and to have better results. Here are some tips to help you and your HCP become partners in improving your health, and health care.

Choosing a Health Care Provider

  • Consider what you are looking for in this HCP. Make a list of qualities that matter to you,  e.g. office hours suitable to your work and family commitments; listens; takes phone call questions in times of crisis etc.
  • Consider what you expect them to provide for you. Do you understand their role? How can you best fit them into your TEAM?
  • Identify several possible local HCP’s in an area convenient to attend your appointments. This might be in your local residential or workplace area.
  • Consult reference resources, including family, friends, workmates, online groups etc
  • Make a choice – make an appointment.

 Getting Ready for an appointment

  • Once you understand the role of the HCP you are about to visit – be prepared by making a list of questions / concerns prior to attending your appointment.
  • If the appointment is a follow up, plan to update your HCP with what has happened since your last visit – Take information with you e.g. your most recent BGL’s; information / advice you have read or been given from other sources, changes you have made to your self care plan, and visits other HCP’s you have enlisted on your team. Bring other medical information, such as x-ray films, test results, and medical records.
  • It is important to tell your HCP personal information—even if it makes you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. The more they know about your health, and your current areas of difficulty the more they can help you with your self care plan.
  • Bring a “health history” list with you, and keep it up to date. You know important things about your symptoms and your health history. Tell your HCP what you think he or she needs to know.
  • Also, take a current list of medicines (include when and how often you take them) and what strength. Talk about any allergies or reactions you have had to your medicines.
  • Tell your HCP about any herbal products you use or alternative medicines or treatments you receive.

 Get Information: Ask questions.

  • Consider bringing a family member – involving them may help you to build your self-care plan, and if your memory is fading they might like to take some notes for you.
  • Always ask to use an interpreter if your primary language is different to the local language.
  • Reflect on what your HCP has said by asking things like: “So, you’re saying that I need to join a gym and exercise” (what they said was “you would benefit from finding some exercise that you can enjoy and do for 30 minutes most days).
  • Developing a self care plan based on what you think your HCP has said, rather than what they actually did say, is not going to be very effective.
  • Ask your HCP to draw pictures if that might help to explain something. Or provide websites like YouTube where some current valid information could be found.
  • Take notes. Or ask your HCP to provide a written plan of what they are asking of you.
  • Some HCPs do not mind if you bring a voice recorder to help you remember things. Ask before you start the session. Discuss why you might want to do this. Maybe ask your HCP to simply summarise at the end of the session rather than record the whole session if they are uncomfortable with this idea.
  • I recently asked my physiotherapist could I make a video with my smartphone of the exercise he wanted me to do. This gave me clarity and confidence that I was going to do them correctly.
  • Let your HCP know if you need more time. If there is not time that day, perhaps you can ask if they will give you a few minutes on the phone later, or leave your questions with reception to be answered by your HCP by phoning you at a later date. Or, make another appointment.
  • Ask if your HCP has washed his or her hands before starting to examine you. Research shows that hand washing can prevent the spread of infections. If you’re uncomfortable asking this question directly, you might ask, “I’ve noticed that some HCPs wash their hands or wear gloves before touching people. Why is that?”
  • Learn about medical tests that are relevant to your condition. For example, in the RACGP yearly handbook is a list of recommended tests for people with diabetes. Become familiar with these tests – their frequency, the targets, and the proposed treatment plan for things like above target blood pressure and above target cholesterol.

Discuss your diagnosis and what to expect.

Are you clear on the type of diabetes you have? Are your clear about the progressive nature of diabetes, especially type 2? A GP may not have the time to answer your questions. Ask your GP to refer you to a diabetes educator (ideally a nurse specialised in diabetes self management and education, not a practice nurse who has basic level of knowledge and experience most of the time)

Find out about your medications – one person often forgotten is the specialised skills of your pharmacist. They have the expertise to know the intricacies of medication side effects and combinations. Ask them about how to safely and effectively use your medications.

 Make decisions with your HCP

Ask about different treatment options:

  • Is this the best medication for me?
  • If I get any side effects what do I do? If this medication does not work, what’s next?
  •  Do you mean ….. ? Is there anything I should not be doing?
  • How soon should treatment start ?
  • Can the treatment start next month when I am back from holidays?
  • Can I stop the treatment when I can’t afford it?
  • How much will the treatment cost?
  • What can I do to prevent further problems?
  • What can I do to keep my condition from getting worse?
  • How will making a change to my habits help me?
  • Are there support groups or community services that might help me?
  • Which other HCP’s will be able to help me manage this health issue?
  • Ask when you should return for a follow-up appointment.

They Just Don’t Listen

So many times I hear  from my clients – “my HCP didn’t listen to me, I gave up on them”.

If this is you, what are your options? Are you going to give up on your diabetes self care plan because of one HCP who might have been having a bad day?  Can you see a different HCP in the same practice? Can you get a referral to another HCP of the same discipline? Yes, yes, and yes!

Do you have any experiences that you might like to share with our community regarding how you make the most of your appointments with your Health Care Professionals?


David – Diabetes Educator

1 Comment

  1. Imagine_David on January 22, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Putting words into practice.

    Yesterday I had to visit a specialist medical officer.
    I was told that this person ‘spoke my language’ – but I did not know how well.
    So, I wrote down my general health history and a history of my current health problem that I was seeing her for. I also wrote at the end of these notes “This is what I want from you: 1. Is the problem abc or xyz? 2. What is the treatment? 3. If the treatment does not work, what is the plan?

    She read my notes and gave me exactly what I asked for.

    This was contrary to the visit I had with a local GP last week where I mistakingly trusted a friend to interpret for me. The friends health beliefs are ‘ the doctor is always right; just listen and follow advice. I was not asked any questions by this GP; I had my health judged on the bare minimum of presenting visual signs. And when I spoke to the specialist about the GP’s plan, she told me it was not correct.

    Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes. But when it is my health I want to be given a plan that fits for me and my needs. Asking and being asked questions makes for a successful and collaborative health outcome. Even if plan a needs some fine thing along the way.