“I Don’t Get It”—How Not to Miss the Point at Your Next Doctor Visit

“You know what I mean?” It’s a common phrase that many of us use every day. We check in to confirm that our listener gets our point. Understanding and being understood are integral to daily communications with others. Yet, in the doctor’s office, misunderstandings are not uncommon, and can result in life or death situations.

Nearly half of all Americans, including highly educated people, have a hard time understanding health information. Patients who don’t fully understand their health condition, treatment options, or the importance of taking medication as directed may be in for trouble. They are at increased risk for hospitalization, encounter more barriers to getting necessary health care services, and are less likely to understand their doctor’s medical advice, which can lead to poor outcomes, including death. Better comprehension of health-related information and services—or health literacy—can lead to better health decision-making and overall well-being.

Getting physicians to speak in plain English is one part of the equation. To that end, ACOG and the American Medical Association have developed guidance for health professionals to help them better communicate with their patients.

Patients can also do their part to improve their understanding. Try the following tips at your next doctor’s visit:

  • Ask your doctor to speak in simple and plain language
  • Consider bringing a friend or relative with you who can help you interpret and remember what your doctor said
  • Take careful notes throughout your visit and read them back to your doctor to make sure you fully understand what’s been said and what you’re supposed to do after the visit
  • If you’re confused by something, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to repeat the information

For more tips, check out ACOG’s Patient Fact Sheet “Making the Most of Your Health Care Visit”.