Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(5):1214

In the waiting room,

  • Tell the receptionist if calling your name is not the best way to tell you that the doctor is ready to see you.

If you use sign language,

  • If you prefer to have a sign language interpreter, ask for one when you make your appointment.

  • It is usually not a good idea to ask a friend or relative to be your interpreter, because your doctor may need to ask you personal questions.

  • You can help your doctor find the right interpreter by explaining the kind of sign language you use (American Sign Language, Signed English, Pidgin Signed English, Visual-Gestural Communication, or the sign language of another country). If the interpreter is certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, you can feel sure about confidentiality.

If you use spoken language,

  • You may feel embarrassed or awkward saying that you did not understand something said. Some people nod their head or smile to indicate they understand something, even when they did not. It is important to understand everything, so it is okay to interrupt your doctor to ask for something to be repeated.

  • Ask for a quiet, well-lit room. The doctor should speak clearly, face you, keep his or her mouth turned toward you, and should repeat and rephrase as needed.

  • If your doctor will be wearing a face mask for a procedure, ask to be told what you need to know ahead of time, because you can't read lips through a face mask.

  • If your speech is difficult for others to understand, ask the doctor to be patient. Take your time.

  • If you need a Cued Speech interpreter or an oral interpreter, request one when you make your appointment.

Understanding what your doctor tells you,

  • You and your doctor may want to repeat each other's sentences back. This way you can both check to see if you understood correctly.

  • If your doctor uses a word that you do not know, ask for the word to be written down and explained clearly.

  • Ask for written information about your condition, your medicines, or your treatment choices.

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