The PRAXIS Nexus The PRAXIS Nexus

Three Steps to Better Patient-Provider Communication

Posted on August 15, 2018   |   

By Jane Martin, BA, LRT, CRT, Assistant Director of Education at the COPD Foundation

As a healthcare provider for individuals with COPD, you are well aware that many of these individuals have similar experiences related to their disease. The ways patients work with their healthcare providers and what they expect from them can vary greatly. This blog post will touch upon some things that individuals with COPD look for in working with their prescribing healthcare providers, including physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

Understanding Emotions

A diagnosis of COPD carries with it a unique set of emotions, attitudes and outlooks. Living day-to-day with COPD can cause individuals to feel vulnerable yet sometimes come across as skeptical or even negative. Patients with COPD need healthcare professionals who understand this. In their own words, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • It’s important that you really listen to what I’m trying to say.
  • Know that I am experiencing loss of physical and social activities – of my former life.
  • Know that I may have gone through a long, painful journey of denial to come to this point.
  • If my COPD was caused by cigarette smoking, please don’t shame and blame me. At this point, I get it and I need your help.
  • I am more than this disease. In spite of COPD, I am still me. I have a life, people I love and who love me, the same as you.
  • I have meaningful goals for my life. I may not know where to start in setting goals or if there’s even time left for me to consider them.
  • As a person with COPD, I may have to work at having self-confidence and speaking up, especially in interactions with my healthcare providers.

Educating-Better Yet-Helping Patients Learn

A good healthcare provider should welcome an informed approach and understand that when people know more about their disease, the better they can manage it. Healthcare providers should not feel threatened by questions but accept patients who are eager to know what is going on. Impacted individuals may say:

  • Educate me using language I can understand but don’t underestimate what I am capable of comprehending; however, I might need to hear some things more than once.
  • Tell me about the medications you are ordering - their names, how they are supposed to work and what the desired results should be.
  • I might have questions you have been asked a hundred times before but for me, this is all brand new. They say that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.
  • Office visits can be overwhelming. Give me something I can take home and refer to later on.
  • Demonstrate something I should do and watch as I try to get it right.

Encouraging Empowerment

Doctor standing

For individuals with any diagnosis, it’s easy to forget that healthcare providers see a different patient every 15-30 minutes all day long. People with COPD can do their part in having productive and rewarding office visits, coming away with their questions answered and feeling empowered in effective management. Encourage patients to:

  • Jot down questions in between appointments when they think of them and bring them to the next office visit.
  • Keep track of their health information: My COPD Action Plan, a list of current medications, test results and information (in brief) that relates to their disease.
  • Do their best to state any concerns clearly, taking just one to two minutes. Discuss what has changed in their breathing and overall health since the last appointment.
  • Be honest. If they are still smoking and/or not taking the medications (including supplemental oxygen) as prescribed, tell the doctor. If they are not sure if they are using the inhalers correctly, just ask.

In return, patients can ask you to:

  • Tell me why we are using a certain treatment or approach. If there are choices in my treatment plan, let me know.
  • Work with me to use a COPD action plan.
  • Make sure your office staff knows the nature of my exacerbations – that common cough and cold symptoms can be more serious for me than some other patients.

Many of the individuals with COPD you care for are ready and willing to communicate effectively to carry out the COPD treatment you prescribe. With this, they can work in partnership with you to achieve their best possible health.


Click here for a provider's perspective on how to improve patient communication.

This page was reviewed on February 11, 2020 by the COPD Foundation Content Review and Evaluation Committee


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  • Great article Jane!
  • Jane, very well written! This is a great article for most health issues and not just COPD. I can speak on behalf of most individuals with COPD this is what we expect out of our healthcare providers and if the article is truly read and not just given a thumbs up we can all have better outcomes as a patient or provider.
  • This is one of my favorite lines in this article: "I have meaningful goals for my life. I may not know where to start in setting goals or if there’s even time left for me to consider them." I have been thinking a lot about this lately.
  • Jane a very informative article

  • Thanks Jane . I really like the statement "I am more than my disease".
    This information will be helpful when we teach our "Harmonics for Health " class in September.
  • I am revisiting this article and love the points Jane makes here. Many of these excellent tips for healthcare professionals and impacted individuals can be put into practice through the use of the COPD Pocket Consultant Guide - if you haven't yet, check it out using your phone or tablet!

    You can download the app for free at:

    The App Store:

    Google Play: