Talking with your health care provider

09/09/2018
CHA's Elder Service Plan can help older adults who have comprehensive health and social needs that affect their daily lives.

By Jonathan Burns, MD, Medical Director, Elder Service Plan

How well you and your doctor or nurse practitioner communicate with each other is one of the most important parts of getting good health care. But, talking to your health care provider isn't always easy. It takes time and effort on your part as well as theirs. In celebration of September as Healthy Aging month, team members of Cambridge Health Alliance's Elder Service Plan are sharing advice for older adults.

As a patient, you are not powerless when it comes to effective communication in the exam room. This means asking questions if the doctor's explanations or instructions are unclear, bringing up problems even if the doctor doesn't ask, and letting the doctor know if you have concerns about a particular treatment or change in your daily life. Taking an active role in your health care puts the responsibility for good communication on both you and the provider.

When you're older, it becomes even more important to talk often with your doctor. That's partly because you may have more health conditions and treatments to discuss. It's also because your health has a big impact on other parts of your life, and that needs to be discussed. Clear and honest communication between you and your physician or nurse practitioner can help you both make smart choices about your health. It's important to be honest and upfront about your symptoms even if you feel embarrassed or shy.

Here are a few tips that can help you talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner and make the most of your appointment:

Write down a list of questions and concerns before your appointment.
Make a list of what you want to discuss. For example, do you have a new symptom you want to ask the doctor about? Do you want to get a flu shot? Are you concerned about how a treatment is affecting your daily life? If you have more than a few items to discuss, put them in order and ask about the most important items first. Don't put off the things that are really on your mind until the end of your appointment—bring them up right away!

Consider bringing a close friend or family member.
Sometimes it is helpful to bring a family member or close friend along to your next visit. Let your family member or friend know in advance what you want from your visit. The companion can remind you what you planned to discuss with the doctor. Also, they can take notes and can help you remember what the doctor said.

Request an interpreter if you know you'll need one.
If the health care provider you selected or were referred to doesn't speak your language, ask their office to provide an interpreter. Even though some English-speaking doctors and nurse practitioners know basic medical terms in other languages, you may feel more comfortable speaking in your own language.

Always let the doctor, your interpreter, or the staff know if you do not understand your diagnosis or the instructions they give you. Don't let language barriers stop you from asking questions or voicing your concerns.

Do you know someone 55+ who needs extra support to stay healthy in their home and community? If so, meet the team at CHA's Elder Service Plan and visit www.challiance.org/esp/elder-service-plan or call 617-575-5850. CHA can help older adults who have comprehensive health and social needs that affect their daily lives.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.