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Top tips for talking to your doctor

Health tips 13 Aug 2019
Young woman smiling

Jean Hailes specialist women's health GP Dr Amanda Newman shares her practical advice and top tips for talking to your doctor, so that you can get the most out of your next medical appointment – whatever the issue at hand.

Medical appointments are an important part of taking care of yourself. But planning a visit to the doctor can sometimes feel unsettling. You may find some things difficult to say, or some questions hard to ask.

Here, Jean Hailes specialist women's health GP Dr Amanda Newman shares her practical advice and top tips for talking to your doctor, so that you can get the most out of your next medical appointment – whatever the issue at hand.

Make the time & put yourself first

First things first. Before we dive into how to get the most of health appointments, we need to take a moment to mention the importance of health appointments.

"It's very common for women to put the needs of others ahead of themselves, or to find the thought of visiting the doctor overwhelming and delay it," says Dr Newman.

"But if something is bothering you, or interfering with your daily life, make an appointment with your doctor and take the time to put yourself first."

Dr Newman says that as well as seeing your doctor for any immediate health concerns, it's important to visit your doctor (GP/general practitioner) every year or two for a health check.

During this health check, your doctor can assess your current health and recommend screening tests such as taking your blood pressure, monitoring your cholesterol levels, or doing a cervical screening test.

"This helps in the prevention and early detection of any health issues, when they are often more easily and effectively treated," says Dr Newman.

"It can be all too easy to put these things off, but you'll feel much better for reaching out and taking care of yourself."

Come prepared

For some medical appointments, particularly for complicated or sensitive health issues, it can help to spend time preparing.

"Before your appointment, think about any questions you may have and what you'd like to achieve out of the appointment," says Dr Newman.

"This way, you can be more confident, and what you want to focus on can be addressed in the appointment. It puts you in a better position to have your health needs met by the doctor."

Dr Newman suggests that if you feel nervous about bringing up a particular health concern, or if your health issue is complex, it can help to take some notes in with you.

"Beforehand, write down what you are experiencing – including, for example, your symptoms, how often they occur and how they are impacting your life," she says. "This way, if you get stuck or flustered, you have something you can refer to."

Be honest

While it can sometimes be hard to talk about certain topics, being honest and open with your doctor is an important part of any medical appointment, says Dr Newman.

"Always remind yourself, your doctor is there to help you – without judgement," she says.

"Doctors are trained to treat and talk about all sorts of sensitive issues. Whether we're treating you for a broken bone, a sexually transmissible infection (STI), or a lowered sex-drive, our aim and approach is the same; to support you in being the healthiest you can be.

"If you're not comfortable discussing an issue with your current doctor, find a doctor you can talk to."

Ask questions

Before leaving your appointment, be sure that you've understood your doctor's advice and any instructions.

A good way to do this is to repeat back to the doctor what you've learned in the appointment and what the next steps are.

Write down the key points of information if you need to.

"If you are unsure about anything that's been discussed, don't be afraid to ask questions or ask your doctor where or how you can find more information."

Dr Newman says that people don't always remember everything they're told in medical appointments, so sometimes need a helping hand.

"Bringing a friend or support person into the appointment with you can really help with this, especially if the health issue or treatment is complicated," she says.

"The friend can act on your behalf, asking questions or taking notes. And you can de-brief with them after the appointment to make sure you've understood everything."

Follow-up appointments

In many instances, it makes sense to book a follow-up appointment before you leave the doctor's surgery. You can always cancel it if you wish.

Sometimes, when your first appointment is over and you've followed the doctor's advice, the health issue may still be a problem.

The issue may not be properly resolved, you may be having trouble taking the treatment, or something else might be going wrong.

If that is the case, Dr Newman advises you to "go back to your doctor and tell them."

"Most of the time, if you've got a runny nose, it's a head cold. But if it doesn't get better, you ought to go back and get it checked out more thoroughly," she says. "The same applies for other health concerns.

"The lesson is: your doctor is an important part of your health and wellbeing. They are on your side to help you, so make the most of them and their knowledge, skills and advice."

Read more information about visiting your doctor and health checks on the Jean Hailes website.