Communicating effectively with your doctor and health care team is a learned skill - one that some people do better than others. If you're having difficulty talking to your doctor or don't feel that you are getting your needs met, it's often helpful to step back and look at what is going on.

  • How do you communicate? Do you listen well and are you getting a chance to ask questions?
  • Are you seeing the right person? Sometimes people expect one person to address all problems, when in fact some problems are best dealt with by a team of providers.
  • What type of relationship are you looking for? Some people want the doctor to be in control and make decisions. Others want to make the decisions themselves and have personal control over decision-making. While still others thrive best with shared control between themselves and their health care team.
  • Keep in mind that different skills and ways of communicating are used in different types of relationships. Know what you want and develop the skills that will help you achieve this.

Next you need to figure out how and when to stay in touch with your team. Health care professionals like to look at a situation and collect data or information about what is going on before making a decision. When you track your seizures and how you are feeling, you are bringing in the critical data that your team will need. When you don't do this, it's very hard for your doctors to know what to do next.

When to talk to your doctor and how to share this information will vary depending on how long you have had seizures, what your usual seizures are like, the setting in which they occur, or if you are going through any special circumstances or treatments. Scheduled appointments usually give you the most time to talk with your doctor, but other situations may arise when you need help between visits.

Tips for appointments

  • See your doctor or other health care provider at regular times recommended by your doctor and at least once a year.
  • Ask to schedule more frequent appointments when you're trying something new or going through new situations. Research has shown that the frequency of visits helps improve a person's ability to manage chronic health problems.
  • Bring your data and personal experiences to each visit - include seizure calendars, list of medicines, side effects, seizure plan, changes in other medical problems, new symptoms, and how your daily life is affected.
  • Be responsible before making a decision - ask as many questions as you need.
  • Take action and do your homework. Make a list of what you are supposed to do so you can follow-up and make sure it gets done. Make a list of what the doctor is going to do for you too.

Tips for phone calls

  • Ask your doctor how phone calls are handled by their office. Some doctors may have specific times for phone calls or have phone calls managed first by a nurse. Others may allow electronic communication.
  • Times to contact your doctor may include:
    • When seizures increase or are different from your usual pattern.
    • When unexpected side effects occur or when side effects are bothersome.
    • When unexpected problems develop during medicine changes, after surgery, when sick with another illness, or when medicines have been given for other health problems.
    • Before surgery or procedures for a different health problem.
  • Ask your doctor who and how to contact someone in an emergency. There may be times when you should not wait for a routine call back, and should talk to a covering doctor or go to an emergency room.
    • When serious side effects occur and your doctor is not available, go to your local emergency room or emergency back-up service.
    • When a seizure emergency develops, call for emergency medical help.

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Authored By: 
Steven C. Schachter, MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Friday, May 25, 2007