12 tips for navigating conversations with doctors

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Having good discussions with your doctor about your health is important. It’s a good idea to have regular visits with your doctor, whether they’re for routine checkups, or to address particular concerns. When you need to talk to your doctor, you may feel scared, embarrassed or nervous. That’s OK! Here are some tips to help you navigate a conversation effectively and tell your doctor what’s going on.

  • Book an appointment: call your doctor’s office in advance to book an appointment. This will help ensure you get in to see your doctor when you need to and that you have time to prepare. Ask the receptionist if you need to bring anything with you for your visit (e.g. a health card) and let them know your preferences for being contacted (e.g. if/how you’d like to receive appointment reminders, who they can talk to about your appointment, etc.).
  • Come prepared: make sure you know where to go for your appointment and how you will get there. Write down the names of any medications you’re taking and any symptoms you’re experiencing so you can describe them to your doctor.
  • Make a list: before your appointment, make a list of any questions and/or concerns you may have. Prioritize your list so you’re able to get to your most important points first. You can read from or even show your doctor your list if you need to.
  • Focus on the facts: it’s OK to do some research about what you’re experiencing before your appointment. However, try not to worry too much about what you read online or hear from other people. Keep in mind that your doctor is an expert who can inspect your body, order tests and determine the role you and your family’s history may play before making a diagnosis.
  • Bring someone: you can ask a friend, sibling or safe adult to go with you to your appointment. They can come with you to meet the doctor or stay in the waiting room until you’re done. Having someone you trust there for support can help you feel more comfortable throughout your visit. They may also be able to think of additional things to ask and help you recall/understand what the doctor said.
  • Record it: it can be hard to remember everything your doctor says in the moment. It’s a good idea to take notes throughout your appointment. Record the key points on a piece of paper or on your phone. You can ask your doctor if it’s OK to take an audio recording of your conversation.
  • Protect your privacy: in Canada, doctors are required to keep conversations with youth confidential. However, it’s important to know that this doesn’t always happen in practice. Talk to your doctor about confidentiality before you disclose anything personal, and ask what you can expect about your privacy. Ask them if there are times when they may share something you’ve said to them with others, like your parent(s)/caregiver(s).
  • Stay calm: it’s common to be nervous about a doctor appointment. Try to relax and take a few deep breaths to calm your nerves. Doctors are used to hearing different things from their patients and won’t be shocked by what you say.
  • Ask questions: it’s always OK to ask for clarity about what your doctor says. Your health is important, so make sure you maximize your time with your doctor and ask any questions that come to mind. You may want to ask about treatment options, tests, next steps and if there’s anything you can do to improve your health.
  • Repeat it: throughout your discussion, try to repeat what your doctor says back to them. Repeating the information can help you confirm facts, understand instructions and remember what was said.
  • Request resources: you can ask your doctor for their contact information in case of an emergency. You can also ask them for resources to take home if you need additional advice.
  • Book your next appointment: ask your doctor if you need a follow-up visit and book the appointment with the receptionist, if necessary. Write down the date/time and ask if there’s anything you need to bring with you.

Talking to your doctor about your health can be nerve-racking. Remember, your doctor is there to help you feel better, so it’s important to tell them what’s happening. If you’re worried about talking to your doctor, you can speak to a friend or safe adult. Kids Help Phone’s counsellors are available 24/7 at 1-800-668-6868 if you need support.