Has your mind ever gone blank after leaving your doctor’s office? You may be trying to remember the specific instructions or the answers to your “what-if” questions: “What if I don’t feel better after a couple of days?” “What if I miss a dose of my medication?” “What if I feel worse in the middle of the night?” Most important, you just want to stop forgetting what your doctor told you.
According to research, nine out of 10 Americans don’t fully understand or remember what to do after a visit with their doctor. This is not a reflection of education level or intelligence. Medical terminology is foreign to most of us, and stress does impact your ability to listen, process information, and recall it accurately.
Getting clarity and understanding what your doctor has discussed is important to getting well or staying healthy. It is known as “health literacy,” and it is the best predictor of how prepared you feel to manage your illness or recovery at home. Clear communication is one of the most powerful tools you can use to stay healthy.
Here are five tips to help you stop forgetting what your doctor told you:
1. Trust your instincts
If you’re confused or if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to ask questions or voice your concerns. Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to get clarification on something that may sound confusing at the time. Remember that most patients have been in your exact shoes. In fact, the issue is so important to healthcare and patient advocacy that there’s a campaign called SPEAK UP that offers help for patients who need necessary information they want and need when visiting their doctor.
2. Take notes during your appointment
This may sound like grade school, but most people forget it’s an option. Taking notes during your appointment can help you remember important information later. Write down the instructions given by your doctor, any changes to your medication, and any specific symptoms to watch out for. Having written notes to refer back to can be invaluable in ensuring you follow your doctor’s advice accurately.
With technology, it could be even easier than that. Most smart phones have recording devices, and it may benefit patients who don’t want to take notes to simply hit the record button as soon as the doctor comes in the room. It’s important to let the doctor or nurse know you plan to do that, but it can replace pen and paper in most cases.
3. Bring someone you trust
Having a trusted companion with you during your appointment can help you remember important details. Whether it’s a family member or a close friend, that person can take notes or ask questions on your behalf if you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone else hear the information so he or she can provide an extra layer of understanding.
4. Repeat and rephrase
A technique long used to improve memory is repetition. To help you stop forgetting what your doctor told you, try repeating and rephrasing the information back to them in your own words. This will not only help you remember the information but also allow your doctor to clarify any possible misunderstandings. Don’t be afraid to ask for further explanations if something is unclear.
5. Request written instructions
If possible, ask your doctor for written instructions. Doctors who have website portals where all of your visit information is stored may have after-visit notes. If that’s not the case, asking for a physical copy of the information can serve as a helpful reference when needed. You can refer back to it whenever you have questions or need a reminder. Written instructions can also be shared with any caregivers or family members involved in your care.
Good communication with your doctor is a shared responsibility – it’s up to both you and the doctor. Following these tips can improve your health literacy. These are also great ways to stop forgetting what your doctor told you.