what doctor wants you to knowHealth & Wellness

5 Things Doctors Wish You Knew (that will empower you)

By Phoebe Chi, MD


Have you ever left a doctor’s office somewhat disappointed with your visit? Maybe you just spoke to a physician, but instead of having all your concerns addressed, you find yourself with even more questions? Do you ever wonder what doctors secretly wished patients would do that would make caring for you a smoother process?

My purpose in writing this post is to do two things: to provide practical tips that you can use today that will 1) help prepare you for encounters you might have with the health care system in the future…whether it’s a routine doctor’s visit or an unexpected trip to the ER, and 2) help you make the most out of your interactions with your physicians.

Therefore, without further ado…

#1- Carry around an up-to-date list of your medications with you at all times.

Even in this age of electronic medical records, few things are more valuable to me as a physician than when a patient is able to provide an accurate list of all medications and herbal supplements they currently take. If you haven’t yet, take the time to make one (with the name, the dosing schedule, and what it is for), then put it in your wallet. The next time a health care provider asks you, “What medications do you take?” show them your list. This will save both you and the staff time and energy, leaving more time to address issues important to you. It will also be invaluable if you encounter a medical emergency one day.

#2- Always ask for a copy of the results of your diagnostic tests and keep them in a file at home.

Another thing that is highly valuable that some people don’t realize is medical data–the lab results and radiology reports that contain crucial information about your health at a certain point in time. Even if you don’t understand what everything means, having the documents available at home empowers you as a patient, because then you have access to all the information that your physician has. Also, when going to a new doctor, it can be incredibly helpful if you come equipped with this information. Therefore, next time you have a test done, request a copy of the “official report” (Many times if you don’t ask, you will only be given a summarized version which is quite different and lacks some important information.)

#3- Before every appointment, write down any questions you may have, and feel free to take notes during the visit.

I wish more patients would do this, simply because given the time constraint of office visits and their rushed nature, it is easy to forget what you wanted to ask and just go along with your physician’s agenda. By having a physical list in front of you, not only will you be encouraged to actually ask them, but your physician will see that you have questions and try to allocate time for them.

#4- Always be honest with your physician. If the treatment plan is confusing or makes you hesitate, say something before you leave.

Never be afraid to tell your doctor that you would prefer an alternative treatment or to simply say, “I know I’m not going to take that medication, because _____.” The worst thing you can do for your health is to agree with your physician and then not adhere to the planned regimen, delaying appropriate care. Rather, by being honest with your doctor, he or she can then work with you to find the best alternative. Which brings me to the last and most important point:

#5- You should feel absolutely comfortable with your physician. If you don’t, do not be afraid to speak up.

This is SO important. I hear all too often about bad patient experiences, and it breaks my heart. Every health care provider has a different personality and treatment approach, and it may not mesh with yours. Some patients simply feel like they can’t say anything, even when they are being made to feel extremely uncomfortable. Therefore I would like to encourage you not to stay silent. If it is merely a matter of personal preference, kindly ask for another provider. However, if you feel like someone is simply being rude or unprofessional, say something. Tell them, or ask to speak to someone in charge (if you are at a hospital). Remember: you deserve to be respected and you deserve good care, so don’t settle for anything less.

Phoebe Chi, MD
Phoebe Chi, MD

As a physician, clinical educator, and managing editor of PhoebeMD: Medicine + Poetry, Dr. Chi aims to inspire, educate, and empower the reader community. She is the author of Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, a poetry-infused health guide, and founder of Pendants for a Cause, a nonprofit organization aimed toward helping others.


51 replies »

  1. Very helpful ideas on how to ensure the care you receive is the best. I would add to make sure that you understand the care advice or next steps by summarizing back to the provider. As a nurse, I use the “teach back” approach, as a patient, I use the summarization approach if the provider doesn’t use “teach back”/

  2. Wonderful tips for a successful relationship with one’s doctor, so important in the maintenance of health. I would add that one must be their own advocate or have someone if you are not able to advocate for yourself. Thank you Puppy Doc, a splendid post.

  3. These are the kind of things that I didn’t grow up learning. I love that you’ve put it so concisely into this one post. Brilliant! About a half dozen years back, I wandered over to the naturopathic side of medicine, and haven’t looked back. As a patient, I ache for the medical system and for doctors who are given about ten minutes per patient. Not nearly enough. If I do see a specialist for something, the way I’m handled as a patient, having one person take my history and BP, and then having to repeat my history all over again to the doctor, experiencing gaps in care, reminds me of why I no longer use in internist or family doctor for my primary care. I love doctors, just don’t like what the system has become and is becoming. That said, brilliant post.

    • Thank you. And I hear ya. I completely agree that there are many aspects of the way traditional medical care is delivered that can be improved upon. The way it is now, both patients and providers are dissatisfied, and this makes me sad. I am glad that you have found something that works for you, because that is all that matters. Wishing you the best. 🙂

  4. All great tips. I’m lucky to have a health system with a secure email system, so I am able to also send email questions to my doctor. The nice thing about that is that I can refer to the answers later if I forget stuff (like the spelling of weird med names).

    I had a great experience with my oncologist. When the biopsy pathology report was ready, I had a meeting with the oncology team and I took in a long list of written questions. I kept referring to them and tried to take notes. The doctor sensed I was a bit stressed and asked to see my list. He then started both explaining and writing notes on my sheet. He then went through the report and highlighted where my questions were answered. On the back he wrote the names of a couple of books and good websites for me to get follow up info.

    It’s a time that I left an appointment feeling like I knew more than when I went in.

    • Wow! It is simply wonderful to hear about your experience with the oncology team. And yes, patient-provider email systems provide an excellent way to keep in touch with your physician, unfortunately they are often underutilized, so I’m very glad you take advantage of it!

  5. Also, consider recording the appointment if the doctor is ok with it. Since my Mom has been battling cancer, this has been a great tool to go back and listen and to research at home. The drug names alone are too har to remember. Thanks Phoebe, great advice !

  6. Nothing worse than seeing a specialist and thinking you are there for one thing and they are only seeing patients for something else. Example a Rehab specialist for rehab. Only tending to lower-limbs not upper limbs…..

    • Oh boy. :-/ Yes that would not be good at all. I think sometimes people overestimate the level of coordination between providers in different specialties. There’s no excuse of course–there should be good communication…but sometimes it just doesn’t happen…

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