Why Improved Communication with Your Doctor is Important

By Dr. Luis Garcia, Family First Health

When I was 18 years old, my grandmother in Puerto Rico became severely ill with a disease called “Guianne Barre,” or “Guiermo,” as she liked to call it. In medicine, we’re not entirely sure what causes “Guiermo,” but one thing is clear: it is often deadly. Within a matter of days, my grandmother was paralyzed from her toes to her head. She needed a machine to help her breathe, and we weren’t sure she was going to live through it.

As a freshman in college, while many of my friends were going to spring break at the beach, I chose to be with my grandmother in a hospital intensive care unit with a dozen other family members, watching her communicate only by blinking her eyes. We stayed with her as long as we could and cherished every moment we had with her because, as Latinos, family is extremely important. Thankfully, she slowly recovered and was able to go home. Now she spends her time watching Telenovelas and is feisty as ever, well into her 80s.

As Latinos, we know that despite our differences in food, customs and even language, the one thing we all share in common is our love for family. It’s no surprise, then, that I became a family doctor and went on to join Family First Health, a nonprofit community health center in York and Adams counties.

Our families play an important role in our health care, and family support is key to good health. It’s through families that we can work together to eat healthfully and lose weight, hold each other accountable for taking our medicines or simply support each other through the challenges that life brings.

In the same way we communicate with our families, is it also imperative for our health that we communicate properly with our doctors. After all, quality health care is a team effort. Many Latino Americans put tremendous confidence in their doctors, which can sometimes lead to a belief that your health is solely the doctor’s responsibility. Not so! All patients need to do the best they can to take personal responsibility for their health and health care.

Talking openly with your primary-care provider helps to build the relationship, leading to better results, quality health care, improved safety and higher patient satisfaction. These conversations also allow providers to better understand each patient in the context of his or her family.

First and foremost, be honest with your doctor, and be as specific as possible in explaining your health concerns – “It’s a sharp pain in the front of my shoulder, only when I bend to pick up my granddaughter” is better than “My shoulder hurts.”

As your doctor works to diagnose or explains your treatment options, don’t just listen: Ask questions. One great way to prepare for each appointment is to consider these questions beforehand – arriving with an organized list helps to direct the conversation and ensure you don’t forget to ask an important question while you’re in the exam room.

Questions that might be relevant across many different situations include:

  What is this test for?

  Why am I taking this medication, or why do I need this treatment?

  Are there any possible complications? Any side effects?

  Are there any alternatives?

  How will this medication interact with medicines I’m already taking?

Clear, open communication between you and your doctor can lead to better treatment options and improved care. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative to make the most of your next visit with your primary-care provider.

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