Do you ever feel like you and your doctor are speaking a different language? You’re not the only one.
According to a Yale University study of insurance claims, out of the 60% of women with menopause symptoms that sought medical attention, nearly three-quarters of them were left untreated. And it’s possible that poor communication between patients and doctors is the culprit.
It’s no secret that patient-doctor relationships can be tough to navigate, but that’s even more true for women, who often have longer wait times than men despite reporting more frequent and severe pain. It’s easy to see why menopausal women can have even more difficulties in communicating with their doctors when you take into consideration how personal menopause symptoms can be.
Before you throw in the towel and begin the search for a new doctor, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you’re doing everything in your power to advocate for yourself and foster a strong relationship with your doctor.
We spoke with Nancy Phelan about what she learned from her career in biopharma and as a caregiver for her family. We asked her exactly what you can do to improve communication with your doctor during menopause.
1. Come prepared
The first step for improving communication with your doctor is preparing yourself for every appointment. That means having a list of your issues and concerns handy, as well as your goals for that specific appointment.
“Write down your list of issues if you need to,” Phelan says. “Be able to articulate in clear, easy-to-use language what your problem is. If you feel like you’re not being heard, look the physician in the eye and say, ‘I don’t think you’re understanding what I’m trying to say to you.’ If you are not clear on something, ask them to write it down, or even draw a picture so you can understand.”
As a bonus, preparing for every appointment will help you feel more confident once you’re in the office describing your menopause symptoms.
2. Build a relationship
Little things like making eye contact (and insisting your doctor do the same) can go a long way in patient-doctor communication. You need your doctor to understand who you are and how your menopause symptoms are affecting your daily life. Be sure to give context around your symptoms. It’s one thing to say you’re having severe hot flashes, but it’s another to say that your hot flashes are so severe that they’re making you miss days at work.
“Do your best to build a relationship with your physician so that they can understand who you are and exactly what your symptoms are,” Phelan says. “Everyone is different, so it’s important for your doctor to get to know you, your specific issues, and how they impact your life.”
3. Be concise
It’s unfortunate, but the reality is that we often have limited time with our doctors. Make sure you’re making the best use of your time and your doctor’s time during every appointment.
“I think physicians are phenomenal. But they’re seeing more patients, practices are getting bought up, they’re under massive pressure,” says Phelan. “Most of them are no longer independent and working for themselves, they’re working for these large systems. They’re doing their best. There is a higher level of planning and advocacy required on the part of patients than ever before.”
That’s why it’s important to be concise and pay attention to the language you use when describing your symptoms.
“You’ve got to be concise,” she says. “Physicians don’t have as much time as they use to – and patients and physicians are not communicating in the same way. They’re describing disease differently. They’re describing treatments differently. We all mean well, but we’re just not syncing up.”
4. See someone else
If you’ve made an effort to be prepared, be concise, and build a relationship with your doctor and you still feel as though they are not listening to you, there are a few things you can do.
“You can always go talk to someone more senior on the staff,” Phelan says. “And if you’re struggling repeatedly to connect with a physician, I think you need to look in the mirror and say, ‘What do I need to do differently so that my concerns are being expressed in a way that the person I’m communicating with can understand them?’ If you’ve done that and you’re still not getting anywhere, find another physician.”
Remember, your health is a priority. If you have challenges communicating with your doctor, you have every right to look elsewhere for someone you can communicate with more easily.