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Help! I Can’t Get My Doctor to Listen to Me

Here’s how to prepare for your next appointment so you can get the care you need.

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Women are more likely than men to report their pain and seek treatment from doctors, according to research published in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. But even so, the same review of studies found that women’s pain is often not taken as seriously as men’s, nor treated as aggressively: for example, in one study, after surgery, doctors gave pain medication to men more frequently, while prescribing more sedatives to women, sometimes writing off the women’s pain as anxiety. So how can women talk to their doctor clearly and candidly about their symptoms—and be heard and understood? Read on for tips on how to go into your doctor’s office prepared.

1. Before your appointment, the National Institutes of Health recommends making a detailed list of questions and concerns, so you don’t forget anything or get flustered once you’re sitting across from your doctor. You can also include a list of specific talking points you want to get to (i.e. “on a scale of one to 10, I’m experiencing pain around a seven.”) Start it a few days before the appointment and keep it on your phone so you can add to it easily.

2. If you’re nervous or intimidated, it’s okay to bring a family member or close friend with you for moral support. Share your list of questions with her so she can help you make sure you ask everything you need.

3. Repeat yourself. No, you’re not being annoying or nagging. It’s your doctor’s job to listen to your concerns, so if you don’t think she’s really heard you, keep talking.

4. Put your questions in perspective. You might be revealing or asking about something embarrassing or super-personal. But remember that your doctor is a trained medical professional; he or she has spent years handling cases of all stripes—chances are, yours is not the first of its kind, or even the strangest thing your doctor has ever heard.  

5. Take notes. Doctors can give a lot of information, often very quickly. This way, you won’t miss anything and can look over names or referrals you need to look up online later.

6. Don’t be afraid to switch doctors. You may like your doctor as a person or been going to her for years, but if you feel you’re not getting the help you need, it’s worth looking into finding a new one. If your doctor is part of a large practice, it’s usually easy to switch to another within it. Otherwise, ask friends and family for recommendations, or check out organizations and message boards for specialist recommendations. Your insurance company’s website can help you narrow down doctors in their network.

7. Bring medical records. A few weeks before your appointment, obtain records from past doctors’ and your own files, and bring them with you to a big meeting with a new doctor. (And read them before you go!)

8. Remember, doctors aren’t the only medical professionals you can ask for advice. There is often a nurse’s line at a doctor’s office that can provide answers. Pharmacists are also a good resource when you need to know which medication or treatment method might be best for you and your pain.

Find other great health and wellness stories at BHG.com/Strive.