Doctor Communication: Talk Your Way to Better Health

Contributed by Gordon Heinrichs, Medical Writer, Author, and Speaker. This article was first published in the 2017, Fall/Winter Edition of  Vibrant Senior Options Resource Guide. This is republished for online reading in May, 2023.

Effective doctor communication during visits with your doctor or other health care professionals doesn’t occur by chance. Communication is a two-way street. For your part, you are responsible for making sure communication with your doctor is as good as it can be. Therefore, when your doctors ask you questions, you have a responsibility to answer clearly and make sure they understand what you said.

You can prepare for your office visits by reading one of the numerous books about talking with your doctor. Here are a few:

  1. Talking to Your Doctor
  2. How Doctors Think
  3. The Essential Patient Handbook
  4. Guide to Talking with Your Doctor

Two-Way Communication

You and your doctors are partakers of two-way street communication. When doctors provide information to you, they should make sure you understood what was said. Your doctors may ask, “Did you understand what I said?” or “Do you have any questions?” Those are flawed questions because they are closed-ended, and the usual reply is going to be a short “no” or “yes”. This ends the conversation on a one-way street, so to speak.

Keeping the Conversation Going

Statements or questions doctors should use are: “Tell me in your own words what I just said” or “Everyone has questions, what are yours?” These start conversations and open up communication. They call this “Teach Back” during doctor communication training classes, and are exactly what everyone needs for their own best health.

Eight Words

There are eight words you can use to keep the conversation going without being aggressive or embarrassed. Use the following phrase: “Doctor, what I understood you to say was…” You can then describe what you heard in your own words. Your doctor should then correct any misunderstandings. By using that phrase, you’ve initiated Teach Back, and you’ve started a conversation to enhance your understanding. Practice those magic eight words at home so you’re ready when they’re needed.

For Your Own Good Health

It’s been documented that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and miscommunication—ineffective communication—is at the heart of most of those errors. Therefore, communicate effectively for your own good health!

Gordon Heinrichs is a medical writer and public speaker who lives in Lynden, WA. He’s a member of the Washington State Health Advocacy Association (WASHAA). His latest e-book is available on Amazon: Did Your Doctor Pass Communications 101? How Miscommunication Endangers Your Life. His e-book describes good and bad medical communication and provides solutions for improving communication with your doctors. His blog is, Email:

Current Vibrant Senior Options Resource Guide

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