How To Talk To Your Doctor

You, your loved one, and the doctor must be able to communicate effectively in order to plan and carry out important treatment goals.

By Dr. R. Sean Morrison

Developing appropriate goals for your medical care during a serious or life-threatening illness requires an ongoing partnership with your doctor. Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor what’s important to you, how you would like to be treated, what you don’t understand, and what you are worried about. Your doctor needs to know what’s important to you to help in making decisions about your care. Bring a list of things you want to discuss with your doctor to your next appointment. Use the following guide to help establish a partnership with your doctor and improve the way you communicate with him or her.

Understand Your Illness

Tell your doctor everything you know about your illness, including what you may have learned from other physicians and from your own research. Ask for an explanation of anything you don’t understand.

Establish How Much You Want To Know

Do you want all the details, or just the big picture? When talking to your doctor and planning treatment, do you want the help of a family member or close friend? If you’ve appointed a healthcare proxy, do you want that person to also help in gathering information?

Talk About What To Expect

You need to know what to expect. How does your disease typically progress? What’s the prognosis? What are your options, and the benefits and burdens of treatment? Ask yourself if there is anything that you need explained so that you can make decisions with your doctor.

Develop A Treatment Plan

Your doctor needs to understand what’s most important to you. What makes life worth living? What do you want to accomplish? What conditions do you consider worse than death? What are you afraid of, or worried about? Do you prefer home care to hospital care? If you think that you could benefit from hospice, ask your physician about being enrolled in a hospice program. Make sure to review specific treatments that you want or don’t want, such as using a ventilator or a feeding tube.

Working With Your Treatment Plan

Once you’ve started working on your treatment plan, make sure your doctor and your healthcare proxy clearly understand your wishes. Make sure you know how to reach your doctor in the event of an emergency. It is important to remember that no plan is ever permanent and that your treatment can be changed if your wishes or condition changes.

Dr. R. Sean Morrison is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geriatrics and Medicine and Director of Research of the Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute at New York City’s Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Morrison has received numerous awards for his work in geriatric and end-of-life care. Dr. Morrison is a graduate of the University of Chicago Medical School, and has been with Mt. Sinai since 1993.

Copyright, Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Public Affairs Television, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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