Patient Education Blog

10 Ways to Communicate Better with your Doctor at your Next Office Visit

Beth Waldron, Program Director of Clot Connect writes…

Research has shown that effective communication between a patient and their doctor can improve the patient’s health outcome.[i]  If you have been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE), you understandably have many questions.  In an ideal world, a health care provider would have enough time to answer all your questions clearly.  In today’s busy health care environment, this often doesn’t happen.

How can you make the best use of limited time with your doctor during an office visit?  Coming to an office visit prepared and organized is essential to communicating quickly and effectively your concerns.  Here are some tips:

1.  Write down your questions beforehand, with the most important questions listed first.

Think in advance about the question you want answered.  Consider the goal of your office visit:  Is it to get a diagnosis?  To discuss new symptoms?  To learn of new treatment options?

Write down your specific questions beforehand, in order from the most urgent you want answered to the least.  There may not be time to answer all your questions during the course of the office visit, but by having your concerns ranked in order of importance, you can be sure to get your most important questions answered.

2.  Know your medical history.

Review your medical history so you can concisely convey it to your doctor when needed.  Note any major illness, surgeries, chronic conditions and allergies. Make a list of your current symptoms and note any pain you may have.

Make sure to tell your doctor about any health conditions for which you are currently being treated by another health care professional. This will help your doctor coordinate your care appropriately with the other health professionals you are seeing.

3.  Know your family medical history.

Familiarize yourself with your family medical history and learn especially if any members of your family have experienced blood clots. Family history is an important part of providing your physician with a complete understanding of your unique risk factors. The Surgeon General’s “My Family Health Portrait” website offers a convenient online tool to help record your family health history here.

4.  Make a list of current medications.

Make a list of the medications you are currently taking and their dosages.  This includes not only prescription medications, but also over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal remedies.

5.  Bring the contact information of all health care professionals treating you—primary care, specialty care, and pharmacy.

Bring to your appointment the name and phone number of your current pharmacy and of any physicians currently treating you.

Don’t forget to bring your insurance card or any required administrative forms that may have been given to you in advance to complete.  This will help speed the check-in process when you arrive for your office visit.

6.  Bring a pen and paper to your appointment to take notes.

You may receive a great deal of information during an office visit.  Taking notes during your appointment can help you remember important details later. Or, ask if you can record the discussion or bring a trusted friend or family member to listen and take notes for you.

7.   Ask questions if you don’t understand something.

Ask for clarification if you are told something you don’t understand.  Ask the meaning of any words your doctor uses that you don’t understand. Ask your doctor to write down medical terms that you don’t understand.

It is OK to ask your doctor to repeat something they’ve said.  Don’t leave an appointment confused.  You wouldn’t get your car repaired without asking the mechanic questions; so, don’t be shy about asking your doctor questions related to something far more important—your health and well-being.

8.  Know what to expect next, after the office visit.

Sum up the visit in your own words.  Before leaving the office, recap your understanding of your doctor’s instructions.   Be clear in your mind about any follow-up tests or labs which need to be scheduled and understand clearly when and how you will get the results of those tests.  Be clear as to whether you will have follow-up with the doctor or whether this was just a one time consultation visit.

Know the referral plan if your doctor recommends you should be evaluated by another specialist.  Understand how those referral appointments will be made, who you should follow-up with and when.

9.  Learn how to contact your doctor.

Before you leave, find out the best way to contact your doctor between visits if new issues arise–such as if you are not tolerating a medication, have new pain, or you have urgent questions that cannot wait until your next appointment.  Understand how your doctor prefers to be contacted—whether through a nurse, an assistant, phone messages or email.

10.  Ask for a copy of your clinic visit notes.

Ask that a copy of your doctor’s notes from the office visit be sent to you.  For all health care visits, whether it is for specialty or primary care concerns, it is a good idea to have copies of your medical records.  Keep these organized in chronological order in a folder or binder and take them with you to every office visit.  You may be seen by many doctors, for many health care issues over the course of your lifetime.  Having your medical history recorded and records easy to access can improve and speed communication between you and your doctor.


[i] John M. Travaline, MD; Robert Ruchinskas, PsyD; Gilbert E. D’Alonzo Jr, DO Patient-Physician Communication: Why and How  J Am Osteopath Assoc January 1, 2005 vol. 105 no. 1; 13-18

Last updated:  November 14, 2011

Disclosure: I have no financial conflict of interest relating to this post.

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6 Responses to “10 Ways to Communicate Better with your Doctor at your Next Office Visit”

  1. Dot Vernon says:

    I like my family Doctor – am on blood thinner – but they did not contact me to tell me they needed to increase dosage a few weeks ago -I had to go to office to see my labwork – seriously thinking of transferring to hematologist who saw me when I was in the hospital. – I know he is very busy but ——-

  2. Judy Sweren says:

    In 2007 I had PE’s and 2008 an arterial thrombosis in my shoulder/arm (left). I was diagnossed by a hematologist with Protein C defeciency, Lupus anticoagulant and High Factor 8. I am on Warfarin therapy for life but never go back to the hematologist, only my primary care doctor. I have HHT and have 3 embolized AVMs one watching for size change. Do you think it is necessary to see the Hematologist on a regular basis or is the Primary Care Doctor trained well enough to keep an eye on these issues. I have never had heart problem that I know of. Thanks, Judy

  3. Stephen Moll says:

    I think a complex patient like you appear to be – with venous and arterial clots, possible protein C deficiency, and HHT – should be seen every so often in a specialized thrombosis center. How often? Once per year seems like a reasonable frequency. Purpose of such visits: (a) risk benefit assessment of staying on blood thinners (risk of bleeding on blood thinners) verusus risk of clotting when off thinners, (b)discussion of INR home testing and of new oral anticoagulants, (c) family implications of the familal clotting disorder, (e) discussion of HHT management, to name a few.

  4. Judy Sweren says:

    I have never heard of a Thrombosis Center, is there one at Johns Hopkins? I go there for them to reevaluate the AVM’s but never been seen again by the Hematologist. Should I request that? I do however once every 4 to 6 weeks go to a Coumadin Clinic at a nearby hospital to check my INR level as I was not aware there was a home testing kit, where can I obtain one? I did get genetic testing for HHT and am awaiting the results before having my son tested. Thanks for your quick response, Judy

  5. Stephan Moll says:

    Dr. Michael Streiff, hematology, runs the thrombosis clinic at Johns Hopkins. I think a patient with a bleeding tendency (HHT) and a history of blood clots would probably benefit from seeing a thrombosis-focused physician, which is often a hematologist. At UNC Chapel Hill the HHT Center is actually run by a hematologist, Dr. Raj Kasthuri. Please also see:

  6. Judy Sweren says:

    Oh well then I guess i have been there because Dr Streiff is my Hematologist. I guess I didn’t realize it was called anything in particular I thought it was part of the HHT group of doctors. Thank you so much for your replies. I will make my annual appointment with Dr Streiff. Judy