How Doctors Can Communicate With You Effectively

Simple language vs. doctors medical jargon
Is your doctor speaking in medical jargon that's hard to understand? Photo by Zahy1412, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Dealing with doctors can be frightening sometimes, not to mention stressful. You’re already worried about being ill or injured, and doctors don’t always come across as the most natural communicators. Connecting with patients is part of their job, though, and there are certain things your doctors can do to help you feel more comfortable and make sure you understand everything that’s happening. If they’re not using a range of communication methods, you can speak to them about it or ask to see someone else. These are some ways your doctor might talk to you, and how you can request they help you.

Speaking in Your Language

Doctors sometimes can’t help talking in medical jargon. They know a lot of big, scientific words, and sometimes it’s hard for them to remember that not everyone understands those terms. However, most doctors will try their best not to use too much jargon when speaking to patients. They can explain things in simple language, even when the concept appears to be complicated. If you feel like you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to put it more simply and they can explain it in a different way. They might also be able to suggest some reading you can do or give you some useful materials.

Simple language is usually easier to understand than medical jargon
Is your Dr. speaking in medical jargon that’s hard to understand? Photo by Zahy1412, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Images and Other Info Doctors Use

Doctors will also often use visual information to help you understand something. For example, they might show you an X-ray or ultrasound image so that you can see something they found. Hospitals and medical clinics will often use special wall mounted workstations for healthcare that are designed to be easily moved around. This helps doctors and nurses to turn them into the right position, while also maintaining privacy. If you feel like seeing something visually would be helpful, you can ask for it – whether it’s an image, a chart or a video.

Body Language and Gestures

Doctors will also often use body language or various gestures to communicate with you. However, this might be something you want them to stop doing, rather than something you might ask them to do. For example, a doctor might put their hand on your shoulder to comfort you. But if that’s something that is uncomfortable, then ask them not to do it. Of course, you might welcome this type of communication, especially if you want your doctor to be more friendly and less clinical.

Allowing You Time to Talk

It’s important that doctors also listen to their patients, as well as talking to them in the right way. Whenever you’re speaking to a doctor, they should allow you the time to ask questions or express any personal concerns. If they don’t, you can make your wishes known to them directly, or you might approach someone else and let them know your worries. Sometimes having a colleague or superior ask a doctor to modify their communication strategy can be more effective.

It can be difficult to feel comfortable when talking to doctors, but remember that you, as the patient, are the one who is in charge. If you need further explanation or want to change anything, then just ask your doctor.


  1. Wow as a doctor, this is really helpful for me. Most of the times its effective communication that helps relieve patient’s anxiety about any procedure. Appreciated !

  2. Working in healthcare as a nurse these points were so important for me when communicating with my patients. I have no problem spending extra time with patients if need be for the extra quality of care. It’s fortunate when you find a doctor or nurse who is willing to do so in today’s world. I worked for a company who wanted numbers. They wanted to put specific, care inappropriate, flow of patient care. We were timed in rooms and had to do specific things that were just not in the patients’ best interests. I quit needless to say. I work for an amazing Dr now who doesn’t care how much extra time we spend with patients as long as we’re putting out quality care. Thank you for sharing Christy! 🙂

    • Agreed! I worked for a huge healthcare corporation and they only cared about numbers. I was timed every time I went in to a room with a patient. Systems were being set in place to limit interaction with patients. They were even talking about removing waiting rooms because it was a “waste” of money and space. It was all about numbers.

  3. Great post Christy. I’ve always found it helpful to have someone with me, especially if surgery is involved. And I have been a patient advocate for my son. It can be extremely overwhelming and having another set of ears is so helpful.

  4. I find doctors are crunched for time by the firm they work for and by ins. companies. Most are only allowed 15 min. per visit. You sometimes have to push for extra time to get the info you need. The system is flawed, not the overworked health professionals.

  5. Excellent post Christy, My mum has been under medical review for over 50 years now and while the medical care is important it is the quality of the interpersonal interaction that really matters when somebody is ill and at their most vulnerable!

  6. I’ve had some pretty miserable experiences with doctors unfortunately. The latest I’m posting about tomorrow. I was never told the truth about cholesterol and because of what was happening with my life, I did not do my own research. I have now! Not only did I write about my experience but I am leaving a whole list of links for those women who take great care in keeping themselves healthy …. Thank YOU, Christy, for this important information!

  7. Keep searching for the right doctor. There are some good one out there. I went through 6 gastrointestinal physicians before finding one who didn’t try to shuffle me out the door after 5 minutes.

  8. So very true. Very well written. A good doctor always follows this. Connecting to patients is very important. If I don’t feel so ,I never c the same doctor again.

  9. Great post Christy. I’m fortunate to have a doctor who is also an excellent communicator. Related to your last point (time for questions), one of the things I do is also prepare a short list of updates and questions. I usually spend about an hour on this before my annual physical for example. My doctor has become so accustomed to this, she will now ask for it. I get all my questions answered and it creates efficiency for her.

  10. Excellent advice! And always important to make notes to ask when we get there, because if you’re like me, you’ll forget if you don’t. 🙂 xxx

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