How Your Doctor Can Help You Understand

The healthcare system can be hard to figure out. It can be especially hard if we have trouble speaking English or we don't understand American culture very well. But don't give up!

In their books, authors Rachel Spector, R.N., Ph.D. and Norine Dresser offer some ideas to help put you at ease and make your doctor visits a positive experience:

Choose a doctor who speaks your language if you do not speak or understand English. It is important that you understand what your doctor and the office staff tell you.  It is also important to find health care workers who speak your language or can understand your culture and beliefs.



How to Find a Doctor Who Speaks Your Language

When you use our “Doctor Finder” website, you can find out if a doctor's office speaks your language.
When you call the office to set up an appointment, confirm they have someone who can speak in your language.

Many of our doctors also have special training to assist patients with special beliefs and customs, or who speak limited English.



Ask for a trained interpreter. Try not to use your family or friends to translate.  Your family members, especially a child, may miss something important that the doctor says. They also may not tell the doctor everything you say.  So if you need language help, ask if the doctor can have an interpreter there.

Write down your questions. Rehearse what you are going to say to the doctor.  If going to an English-speaking doctor is new to you, practice what you are going to say with someone who has been to a doctor before.

Every time you talk with a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, remember to ask three questions:

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?


  • Bring a list of all your medications. Put the medicines you take in a bag or shoebox so you can show them to the doctor. Bring everything, even the over-the-counter medicines. This way your doctor can see what you're taking without having to tell him.  It will help the doctor know what medicines to best prescribe for you.


  • Don't be upset if the doctor speaks or looks only at you or if the doctor doesn't speak to or ask about your family. Many American-trained doctors talk only to the patient. If the patient does not speak English, then the doctor will talk directly to the patient's interpreter. In the United States, some doctors are very businesslike and blunt. Being direct, though, doesn't mean the doctor doesn't care. It's just a different way of working.  Some doctors will only focus on your health and only on the part of your body that has problems. They don't tend to spend a lot of time talking about your family.  If you have family problems that keep you from following the doctor's treatment, be sure to tell the doctor, so you can work out other solutions.


  • Tell the doctor if you have also been using a non-medical healer, such as an herbiera, curandera, or bruja. Some of their treatments may conflict with your doctor's treatments and drugs and cause you harm.  Remember the doctor is only concerned with your health and what you tell your doctor is only between you and the doctor.


  • Ask your doctor to repeat or explain anything you do not understand. It is your right to ask questions if you need more answers.  Doctors are busy people, but they will take the time to explain things to you if you ask.  If you do not understand what your doctor or health-care provider tells you, ask him or her to tell you again. They want to be sure that you know what your treatment is, and that you follow the course of treatment they put you on. Your good health is their goal too! 


  • Tell your doctor if you think you will have problems following the doctor's treatment. Maybe your family always eats certain foods that are not part of the doctor's diet suggestions.  Maybe you work during the day and do not have time to get the test your doctor wants you to have.  You may have transportation problems.  You may not have the money to pay for the medication. Tell your doctor about your hardships. You can work together to find other ways to get you the care that you need.

You deserve to get good medical care and service. Following these tips will help you get the most out of your doctor's visit.