In today’s health care system, communication is critical. Errors in dosage, misunderstood instructions or a failure to stress the importance of compliance can result in deadly errors. Good communication is particularly important in the treatment of chronic illnesses, such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Margaret Smith Washington, author of Doctor, Can You Hear Me? Patient, Are You Listening?, provides the following action steps for patients. These recommendations are the result of three years of research with physicians, patients and other health care professionals.


Before you take the time to visit a doctor, remember these things:

•Become familiar with your medications, their dosage and anything else you are taking. Bring this information with you to your doctor.

•Write down questions and concerns, or take a friend or family member to the visit.

•Take an active role in your care. You can do this by taking responsibility for lifestyle changes.

•Learn how to describe your symptoms in a precise, meaningful way. Comments such as “I’m feeling poorly” don’t tell the doctor much about your condition. Try using more descriptive phrases, such as, “I get short of breath when I climb stairs,” or “I feel a shooting pain in my left side.”

•If someone uses a word that you don’t understand, speak up.

•Make the commitment to learn about your illness, and use your physician or other health care professionals as a resource. Take responsibility to be a partner in your health care.

•Take responsibility for managing your diagnosis based on medical advice and not on observations of others with similar diagnoses. Never share a medication that was prescribed to you.

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