> Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Nancy made a list of things to let her doctor know about at her next appointment. It included a few unfamiliar symptoms, some changes she had made to her diet, and a new medication prescribed by another physician.

While she was in the waiting room, Nancy took a look at the list she had made. It seemed kind of long, and she knew her doctor was having an especially busy day. Out of concern that she might waste his time, Nancy reviewed the list she had made. As she went through each item on the list, she started asking herself if it was something she needed to bring up, if it could wait until some other time, or even if it was something that might make her seem overly concerned, or a hypochondriac. She crossed out more than half the items on the list.

As her appointment with her doctor was coming to an end, her doctor said, “Before you leave, anything else going on?”

Nancy felt like she had mentioned everything she had decided was important from her list. So she answered, “I brought a longer list with me, but decided most of it would be a waste of your time to hear about.”

“Nancy,” her doctor said, “how about if you let me make that decision?”

To tell or not to tell

What about you? Do you tell your doctor anything and everything that might be relevant or important? Or, like Nancy, do you hold back out of fear of being a time waster or labeled a high-maintenance patient?

Here are a few things to think about when it comes to keeping your doctor informed:

Write it down and bring it in. Keep an ongoing list of anything that concerns you—symptoms, diet changes, additional medications, and anything else that’s been on your mind. Bring it to your appointment with your doctor. Don’t talk yourself out of having it handy to go over with your doctor. You’re helping your doctor do his/her job when you’re prepared with information they may need to know about.

Offer to let your doctor do the reading. It can take less time to read through a list on your own than to have someone go through it for you. So you might consider bringing a list that is either in very clear handwriting, or even typed and printed. Make sure you have included enough words to describe each of the symptoms or other concerns you have on your list without being too wordy. And then ask your doctor if he/she would rather read the list themselves. Still, if there is anything on the list you are especially concerned about, make a red mark by it and make sure you ask about it specifically.

Avoid making assumptions. As Nancy’s doctor said so well, doctors are trained to make judgments about what’s important and what’s not. When you second-guess your doctor, important information may fall through the cracks that could place your health at risk. Better to provide too much information than not enough. You doctor doesn’t expect you to be a medical expert or a mind reader. That’s a relief, right?

Ask for guidance. If you’re unsure as to what your doctor is most concerned about, you might ask him/her to give you some guidance on what to be especially on the lookout for. This will give you a sense of what’s most important to your doctor and some reassurance that you’re giving the help he/she needs most. But don’t let that stop you from alerting your doctor to any other concerns you might have.

You and your doctor. Too much information? Never! So help your doctor to help you by keeping the flow of information coming. Don’t hold back. Sharing information is an important part of being a team.

Is your doctor a good listener? Share your tips for better communication by adding a comment below.