Blog: Getting the most out of your doctor visit (getting your point across and getting information)

In any situation, with any person, on any topic…there are always times when it can be difficult to get our point across, or to get the information we want from another person.

This is not necessarily a result of people being intentionally uncooperative, but rather of the fact that communication is complex, and making it a success depends on an array of factors, such as good listening skills, good articulation skills, managing any emotions, working within time limits, to name a few.

Get the most out of your visit to the doctor
Effective communication becomes even more crucial in situations such as a visit to the doctor, in which valuable information needs to be shared and understood. Good communication can help well-being and sustain treatment effects. Specific challenges can arise for older people with low health literacy in trying to engage in effective communication during a visit to the doctor, and get the most out of the visit.

The photo stories below highlight the experiences of older people with low health literacy in trying to get information or have their voice heard during a doctor visit:


Figure 1-3 Source: (Koops van ’t Jagt, Ruth et al. 2016)

These three photo series show typical situations between a patient and a physician.

They can be summarized into three main themes:

  1. Lack of time or attention (“All Ears”)
  2. Feeling nervous: bringing a companion for social support (“Two Heads Are Better”)
  3. Incomprehensible language (“Double Dutch”) (Koops van ’t Jagt, Ruth et al. 2016)

While these are significant hurdles, they are not insurmountable. There are things that you as a patient can do to overcome these difficulties.

As the photo series suggest, it might be of great help to bring a companion along. Further, do not hesitate to ask the physician directly for attention. And when it comes to incomprehensive language, there are things that you can do too. This includes things such as, “asking questions, providing information and disclosing concerns”. (Health Literacy Center Europe, 2015)

Three important questions to ask your doctor
For this purpose, IROHLA developed three questions which you, as a patient, can use as a guideline in order to get more out of your doctors visit:

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?

Source: (IROHLA 2015)

By asking these three questions, you can better ensure that you will receive the important information you need.

Even with these questions, however, physicians tend to use medical jargon. When physicians use medical jargon, they might do so because they forget that others are less familiar with it. When the explanation provided by the physician seems unclear, ask. You may remind them that you are unfamiliar with medical language, and ask if they could simplify and use plain language to explain.

You can help the doctor as well!
You can also overcome difficulties by providing information. Think about what information the physician needs to have in order to help you appropriately. Organize the information beforehand so you feel prepared.

The physician might not be aware of how much information you already have, so it is important that you disclose your concerns. This gives the physician the opportunity to react to each of your concerns individually, and provide better information.

It is then a balancing act, trying to outweigh challenges with strategies for effective engagement in the visit.

By recognizing the challenges and using the appropriate strategies, you can get the most out of your doctor visit.