Set the tone for clear communication

Say it’s your first time taking your child to a doctor. You’re nervous. And you don’t always understand what doctors say. What do you do?

Politely set a tone that lets your doctor know that you want to understand, and that you expect her to engage with you until you do understand.

These three questions can help establish clear communication and expectations with doctors from the start, particularly with specialists.

 

Question 1: What do you do?

Make sure you understand what their specialty does in words that make sense to you. For example, “In plain language, what does a neurologist do?”

If you don’t understand the answer completely, speak up and ask for more information. For example: “OK, now I understand a little more about what you do, but I still don’t understand how that will help my child. Can you explain?”

Question 2: What are your goals in working with my child and our family?

This question lets doctors know that you care about their expectations as well as your own. It tells them you will be an engaged parent. And it helps them view your child as a unique individual, not just another patient. Open, active communication from the start helps create clear communication with your child’s medical team.

Question 3: Are you willing to help me with my questions and concerns?

It’s very hard to say “no” to a mom or dad who asks this question. And it does more to show that you are an engaged parent. It also makes the doctor commit to helping you understand right from the start. You will probably never have to say, “But doctor, you promised at our first appointment that you would help me understand,” but you can if you need to.

More tips for clear communication with doctors

Bring your questions or concerns in writing. You have so much on your plate, the last thing you need is to remember your questions. Written questions also show that you are prepared and engaged.

Take notes of what the doctor says. Ask for more information when needed. You can always refer to your notes if you need to talk about it with others later. Store your notes with the rest of your child’s information

Make eye contact with doctors. Again, it shows you are engaged, and helps the doctor see you as an individual who expects something from her. If you are taking notes, glance up once in a while to reestablish eye contact and let her know you are listening intently.

Get doctors to adapt to your pace. Doctors may seem rushed. When they do, don’t adapt to their pace. Slow the conversation down to a speed you feel comfortable with. Remember this is your time, and your child’s time. Make sure your concerns are addressed.

Sign a consent form for release of information. This will allow your doctor to communicate with other members of your medical team, and for therapists and specialists to share information with your doctor.

Also see, How to Organize Your Child's Medical Information, How to Talk to Your Child's Doctor and Make a Child Info Toolkit for additional tips.