By: KOUSHIK SHAW, MD
There’s an elephant in the room, one that’s preventing patients from getting the most out of their visits to the doctor — and the name of that elephant is embarrassment.
It’s not unusual to feel uncomfortable about some of the more intimate aspects of your health, but too often this discomfort turns into outright embarrassment. This embarrassment can lead to omissions, which in turn make it impossible for your doctor to provide you with the medical care you deserve.
As a urologist, a good part of my practice is putting patients at ease, and encouraging them to be open about sensitive issues they may otherwise find embarrassing. As a result of my work and the countless interactions I’ve had with my patients, I’ve come up with some advice that I’ve found really breaks down the embarrassment wall and narrows the communication gap between patients and their doctors. So the next time you’re worried about an upcoming visit to the doctor’s office, try these simple tips:
1. Come to the appointment with written questions. It’s understandable that you’ve got concerns about your health, but unless you’re able to effectively communicate these concerns with your doctor, she won’t be able to help you. Writing down your questions ahead of time ensures you won’t forget them during your appointment, and it enables your doctor to answer your concerns in a thoughtful, step-by-step fashion. It also helps reduce any embarrassment you may feel concerning more intimate medical issues; after all, if you’re too embarrassed to ask something out loud, you can always show your doctor the question as it’s written down on paper.
2. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. You have a right to know as much as your doctor does about your body and your health, but he’s not a clairvoyant. We know you probably didn’t go to medical school, so don’t fail to ask something you think is important out of fear of looking silly. Your doctor wants to help you, and asking questions is the best way to make sure he’s able to.
3. Research your doctor before your first visit. If you’re setting up an appointment with a doctor for the first time, it’s a good idea to do a little research beforehand. It’s possible you have a friend or family member who can recommend a trusted doctor to you, but if you’re “flying blind,” the internet is a great place to start. Not only can you find in-network doctors courtesy of your insurance provider, but review websites like Yelp can give you an idea of what other people think of various MDs. Subjective reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s a good, quick way of finding out if a certain doctor’s likely to be a good fit for you.
By following these simple steps, you’ll be able to overcome embarrassment on your next trip to the doctor. Remember: nothing about your body is truly embarrassing. The more you’re able to ask your doctor, the more he or she can tell you — and the better he or she’ll be able to treat your condition.
Koushik Shaw is a urologist and founder, Austin Urology Institute.