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Communicating with Your Doctors: A How To Guide

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When you have chronic pain, a disability or any kind of chronic illness, especially the invisible kind, learning how to effectively communicate and deal with doctors is an art form that must be mastered.  Throughout the past several years, having had my fair share of unusual maladies, pains and invisible illnesses, I have tried to come up with some helpful tips for communicating with doctors.


1. Be Prepared.  It’s not just the Girl Scout motto, it’s the illness motto. When you go to an appointment, write down all of your questions, concerns and bring any test results that may be relevant.  You get an average of 10-15 minutes and if you don’t have your proverbial sh!t together, you can waste that valuable time.


2. Know Your Medications. Keep an updated list of all your medications in your wallet.  If you have a smart phone, keep a contact card with your medications and especially your allergies.  Be sure to note the medication, dosage, when and how often you take it, side effects and what the medication is or.  Particularly fpr those dealing with illnesses like nerve pain and fibromyalgia, many medications are used “off book” to treat symptoms, so if you are taking a medicine like Lyrica for nerve pain, be sure doctors are aware of that because that medicine is also used for certain psychiatric conditions.


3. Know Your Condition(s). On the same card or in your phone, it is also important to keep your medical history, surgery dates, etc. Many times when I go to a new doctor or to the ER with back pain, I am frazzled and, if not for my list, would forget to mention pertinent information, such as an arrhythmia or other past medical issues that could be important to your case. By being knowledgeable about your condition, it also allows for more communication with the doctor.  Use WedMD and Google, but do NOT go in there with a diagnosis…that is what the doctors are for.  In the same respect, write down your ideas and thoughts and mention them to the doctor.  In the end, though, you are paying them to diagnose you.


4. Be Your Own Advocate. You make your medical decisions.  I know it often feels like doctors do, but YOU are your only advocate.  Doctors are required to follow certain protocol, but never allow yourself to be bullied into taking medication or having procedures that you do not feel comfortable with or cannot afford.


5. Keep Copies of ALL Test Results. There are many reasons to keep your own records.  Whenever I have a test, be it labs or scans, I always get a copy of the report and, if applicable, the disc or films.  Doctors can get a copy of your records, but you are entitled to the records as well.  If you see a new doctor or are returning to a doctor after having tests that were ordered by a different physician, it is in your best interest to have your test results on hand.  It saves time, but it also allows you to read it through and ask any questions that you may have after deciphering the medical jargon.  I feel like I could pass the MCATs after deciphering years of medical reports.  Additionally, if you are thinking that permanent disability may be an option/necessity in the future, you will want to have all your records.  Usually there is a small charge, but the ordering physician is required to provide you with your records and some will just make a copy free of charge.


6. TRY to Keep it Together. I have had many appointments where that question comes up that makes you want to cry, you know the one: “Are you feeling depressed?”  Typically answering this question leaves me explaining the difficulties I am facing and then I find myself choking back tears.  It is hard to stop yourself from crying, but I have found that if you allow yourself to get TOO emotional, too often, doctors can start to lean towards pain being connected to an unstable emotional state and stop looking for the real cause.


7. Look Nice. This probably sounds ridiculous, but I have found that showing up in sweats with my hair a mess (basically, dressing the way I feel), I am taken less seriously.  If I put even a little effort into looking presentable, I feel like doctors take me more seriously and give me more respect.  It took me almost two years of constant appointments to realize that the times I looked more presentable were more effective, respectful appointments.


8. Be Personable.  I am not advocating that you tell each doctor your hopes and dreams since childhood, but I try to remind doctors that I am a PERSON, not a patient ID.  I try to be conversational and polite and I will mention certain hobbies, or my blog writing to doctors when time and personality permit because it is important for doctors to remember you.  I tell doctors about my weight loss, or my acting classes and then when they see me, among the other 50 patients that day, they remember me as the woman who acts or who lost a lot of weight on her own.


9. Have a Sense of Humor.  It can be hard to smile or joke when you are in pain, but I try to joke about my situation, in a lighthearted manner.  By keeping your sense of humor it allows you to relax and can make you more likable.  Despite doctors claiming every patient is equal, if your doctor genuinely likes you and does not dread you coming in for a monthly follow-up, they are likely to be more helpful and more invested in helping you get better.


10.  Be Interesting. I have often equated getting a doctor invested in helping you to attracting a man in the dating world.  You have to entice doctors to want to go the extra yard (or mile in my case).  No, I am not advocating you flirt with your doctor, but by being knowledgeable and making your case seem like something Dr. House would want to take on, you can get your doctor to listen and therefore become invested. Be nice, be memorable, be knowledgeable and be irresistible (medically-speaking). It’s the equivalent of being sweet, funny, hot and irresistible on a date!


Hopefully these tips will help you be the best patient you can be, so that your doctor can be the best doctor he or she can be.  The better the relationship you have with your doctor, the more successful your treatment.

Can you add to this list?

Photo courtesy of Daniele Oberti via Compfight



Communicating with Your Doctors: A How To Guide

Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

My name is Tracy and I am a licensed social worker. I was working as a Social Worker, when an emergency spinal surgery 2 years ago changed my life and my career. I live with chronic pain and, as a result, I have taken my social work and writing skills, and made them into this blog. This blog is a humorous, informative, no-holds barred honest look at life with chronic pain, depression and disability.”

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APA Reference
Rydzy MSW, T. (2013). Communicating with Your Doctors: A How To Guide. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Aug 2013
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