How to Talk to Your Doctor

For health's sake, speak up

The May 2008 issue of Black Enterprise lists the nation’s preeminent doctors. They reside in various parts of the country and practice in numerous specialties, including obstetrics, gynecology, ophthalmology, dermatology, urology, cardiology, orthopedics, pediatrics, endocrinology, and plastic surgery.

But just knowing who the best doctors are is not enough. Do you make the most of those precious minutes you spend talking to a doctor? Well, you should, because effective two-way conversations between patient and physician is said to improve the overall quality of health care.

“We know that if there is better communication between doctors and patients, patients do better,” says Dr. Lisa A. Cooper, an internist at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an epidemiologist at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. Cooper is one of the authors of a Johns Hopkins study of how race correlates to patient-physician communication during medical visits. The study found that doctors dominated the dialog more strongly when they saw African American patients than when they saw white patients. “It appears that black patients are less likely to ask doctors questions and to be as involved in the conversation as white patients,” Cooper says.

In a clinic, however, silence is not golden. “It’s really important that black patients realize that though doctors are experts in what they do, they–the patients–are the experts on themselves,” Cooper adds. “They have a right to speak up about their concerns. A good doctor will listen and incorporate their wishes and values into the treatment.”

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