woman and her doctor

Male doctors tend to talk less than their female counterparts, resulting in reduced time (10 percent less) with patients. Overall, female doctors are more patient-oriented, discussing the interconnectedness of health, emotions and social relationships.

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Communication is giving and receiving information. Nowhere is this exchange more important than in your relationship with your health care professional. Expressing your health needs and concerns and getting answers to your questions are key components of effective communication in the health care setting.

First, learn how your health plan or health care professional's office manages patients with symptoms or conditions that may need treatment. For minor symptoms, for example, some health plans may want you to call an advice line to evaluate your symptoms before you call the medical office for an appointment.

Ask your health care professional or your health plan's membership services office these questions about using services:

  • When should I call your offices to report medical symptoms?
  • What number should I call if symptoms occur after hours?
  • Where will my family or I be treated if we need to be seen after hours?
  • How long will it take to get an appointment to evaluate my symptoms?
  • If I need emergency care, when do I need to notify my health plan?

Questions for your pharmacist

Ask a pharmacist these questions, if you need information:

  • Whats the best way to manage the symptoms I'm experiencing?
  • Are there over-the-counter (OTC) medications for these symptoms?
  • What precautions should I take when using this medication?
  • What common side effects associated with this medication should I know about?
  • Could this medication interact with other medicines or OTC products I am taking?

Before going to your health care professional's office, take time to prepare for the visit. Preparing ahead will help you make the most of the time constraints on both you and your health care professional. Being prepared will help you provide your health care professional with detailed information about your symptoms or condition, and may help lessen any anxiety you have about your visit. Here's how you can prepare:

Organize your thoughts. Think about what you want to discuss with your health care professional during the visit. Write down any questions you have, and ask them during your visit. Some health care professionals may prefer you fax ahead your questions, if possible, so they have a chance to read them before your visit.

Prioritize. If you have more than a few items to discuss, put them in order so you are sure to ask about the most important ones first. If you think all of your questions or concerns cannot be discussed within one visit, convey this when you schedule your appointment.

Make a list. Think about your symptoms as thoroughly as possible. The more specific you can be, the more you will help your health care professional make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. Write down:

  • what the symptoms are
  • when the symptoms started
  • when the symptoms go away
  • what the symptoms feel like (for example, is the headache a sharp pain or a dull ache?)

Pain symptoms can be especially difficult to discuss because they can be hard to explain or qualify. Using numbers or a scale (one to 10) — one being the least amount of pain and 10 being the most, for example — may help to express pain.

Copyright 2003 National Women's Health Resource Center Inc. (NWHRC)