Your patients should be able to talk to you about anything. Patients know they have doctor-patient privilege in your office, but that doesn’t make embarrassing conversations any easier. Help your patients feel at ease talking to you about awkward health concerns.
Legally you are bound to maintain your patients’ privacy about health concerns, diagnoses, and treatments. You can’t help your patients effectively if they aren’t willing to talk openly about all of their medical concerns.
There are no stupid questions. Assure your patients that there is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to personal health. You are a medical expert, but you shouldn’t expect your patients to understand or use complex medical terminology. Help your patients feel confident that you won’t be judgmental if they ask questions.
Active listening. Don’t assume you understand your patient’s underlying concerns. Allow time for your patient to get out their questions or explanation without interrupting. Listen to what they’re asking and repeat back what you hear them say. You can ask follow-up questions to dig deeper and better understand their concerns.
Offer resources. You can help establish trust and curb embarrassment by providing additional resources. Print out information sheets or suggest trusted online resources where your patients can learn more on their own. Learning more about their conditions will help your patients feel more confident during visits.
Maintain yearly visits. You can help build trust by seeing your patients at least once a year for well-checks. Seeing your patients regularly can help make them feel more comfortable when embarrassing topics come up. Have your office staff schedule annual appointment reminders for well-checks.
Address the topic. Sometimes embarrassment is like an elephant in the room. Just come out and acknowledge that you know the topic can be an awkward one to discuss. Let your patient know that they aren’t alone, and other patients face the same problems.
Start small. Usually, your patients have to give a reason for their visit when scheduling an appointment. You likely already know what they want to discuss, but starting with small talk can help break the ice. Topics like work, family, and hobbies can help your patient open up and get more comfortable.
Recommend a specialist. Your patient may have a concern that you aren’t familiar with. You can recommend that they see a doctor that specializes in that area of medicine. Sometimes it’s easier for your patient to talk to someone with vast knowledge in their area of concern.
Embarrassing health topics
You can prepare for appointments by anticipating awkward topics. Have tips and recommendations on hand, so you’re prepared for any patient in need. Topics that are embarrassing for patients may include:
Tips for patients
If you’re planning to visit your doctor about an embarrassing health concern, you can get prepared ahead of time.
Make notes. Write down the problems you’re having in detail. Be descriptive and include how you feel. This exercise will help you remember any important questions or details on the day of your appointment.
Practice. If you struggle to talk about your concerns out loud, practice at home. Hearing the words out loud while you’re alone may help you feel more comfortable talking to your doctor. If you have a friend or family member you can trust, talk to them, too. They may be able to help you come up with important questions to ask your doctor.
Be direct. Even if you’re embarrassed, it’s important to speak very specifically. Don’t try to be vague or make your doctor guess what you’re saying. Use proper medical terms when you can, and don’t hold back any information or questions out of embarrassment. Your doctor can ask follow-up questions to clarify anything they don’t understand.
Address your concerns. It’s easy to let embarrassing health issues continue because you don’t want to talk about them. Don’t ignore problems if they impact your quality of life. Many health concerns are easy to fix if you can just get the conversation started.
Cedars Sinai: "How to Address Uncomfortable Topics With Your Doctor."
UW Medicine: "How to Talk to Your Doctor About Awkward Health Topics."
Yale School of Medicine: "Taking the Embarrassment Out of Health Problems."
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Common Medical Abbreviations & Terms
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
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