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When things get awkward

Why it's important to be honest with your doctor


If you’ve ever second-guessed telling your doctor something, this article is for you.

One-on-one conversations with your doctor can be extremely personal at times. Some people avoid bringing up uncomfortable topics because they don’t want to feel judged or embarrassed. Others aren’t completely honest when speaking with their doctor – about, let’s say, how many times a week they really exercise or if they are regularly taking their prescribed medication.

But communication is critical in building a strong relationship with your provider.

Dr. Jarrod Sheatsley of Novant Health Oceanside Family Medicine in Shallotte, North Carolina, described an ideal relationship with his patient as one of equality. He said patient-physician talks should be like catching up with an old friend from high school.

“I like to take a team approach to health care,” he said. “I want my patients to feel like they can be open and honest with me, not scared that I’ll be disappointed with their answers.”

Sheatsley said strong communication helps patients feel more satisfied with the care they receive because they feel like their voice has been heard.

“Often patients feel that physicians are talking down to them or talking over their head,” Sheatsley said. “Unfortunately, if they don’t tell us, we don’t realize that they don’t understand what we’re saying. The best thing a patient can do is take an active role in their health care.”

Sheatsley also noted it’s important for a provider to have a clear picture of a patient’s health. When patients leave out information, it can lead to less-than-optimum care or could even have harmful consequences. For example, not mentioning certain symptoms because of embarrassment or because they appear to be miniscule could mean the doctor misses bigger issues, he said.

Likewise, it’s equally as important to share all medications or herbal supplements one is taking to ensure you aren’t prescribed something that could lead to a negative reaction, Sheatsley added.

Go ahead and ask

Sheatsley suggested that patients ask and understand the answers to the following three questions when meeting with their doctor:

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this?

If patients understand why the treatment is helpful or why the doctor is asking them to do something differently, they are much more likely to comply, Sheatsley said.

Here are some additional tips to consider for your next appointment with your doctor:

Try to get over being embarrassed. “Contrary to what you think, doctors are not judging you,” Sheatsley said. “We’ve heard and seen everything, so you’re not going to surprise us.” He noted the easiest way to bring up an uncomfortable topic is to do it like you’re ripping off a Band-Aid – quick and painless.

Be honest. “All we ever want to do is help you,” he said. “We can help you best if we have all the information. Please don’t think that telling us you’re doing everything right helps you. If you tell us the truth, we can assess and help you better manage your health.”

Bring something to take notes with. “At some appointments, there’s a lot of information to take in,” he said. “It may be helpful to bring a pen and paper and write down what we say so you can remember it later.”

Come with questions. “It’s always a good idea to bring questions,” he said. “Your questions can help direct the conversation and allow you to get the most out of your appointment.”

Email your doctor. “You may think of a question after you leave the office,” he said. “Instead of trying to remember to bring it up next time, you can email your physician through MyChart, Novant Health’s online health management tool.”

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Published: 8/24/2015