Getting The Most Of Your Doctor’s Appointment
The average doctor’s appointment is just 18 minutes long, so it can feel like a blur. You may feel like your questions weren’t answered or that new ones have now surfaced. You may not be able to remember what you were told because so much information was given to you in a short period. It also doesn’t help that with the pain and fatigue of a chronic illness, you may not be functioning at your highest level.
But unless you and your physician are on the same page with your illness and treatment, the end result will be differing expectations. It’s important to have all of your questions answered and understand the plan of action going forward, as well as share your own concerns and experiences.
“Living day in and day out with these illnesses gives us an awareness of them and a perspective you cannot fully understand,” writes blogger Catherine Richardson. “But you see, we can be as well-informed, empowered and proactive as we want…[but] we can’t prescribe meds, order tests or make referrals. We need you, the doctor, for that.”
Here are a few things that you can do before, during and after your doctor’s appointment to get the most out of your session:
Identify goals for the visit: What do you hope to accomplish with this appointment? Do you want to report symptoms you’re experiencing? Get a diagnosis? A referral?
Knowing what you want to achieve can help your doctor give information that’s most relevant to you. But since you may only have 20 minutes with your doctor, it may also help to prioritize them in order of importance.
Take notes: If you notice a symptom flaring up, take some small notes about it. For example, if you notice your arm hurts anytime you lift an item, your doctor should be aware of that. You should also write down any questions as they come up so you remember them for the visit.
Make lists: These lists for your doctor can include your current medication regiment, recent tests, refills needed, forms to be completed and questions for today.
Speak up: Be open and honest with your doctor. Share your symptoms, even if it feels embarrassing to talk about them. Voice your opinions and ask questions. Your doctor can’t help you if he doesn’t know what you’re experiencing.
Keep it simple: Since your appointment may be short, it’s important to cut right to the chase. Saying “My arm hurts when I lift anything,” is far more concise then “My arm hurts when I lift anything, I called my friend Rita and said, ‘I can’t believe how much pain I’m in…’”
Record: Since a lot of information may be presented to you, don’t be afraid to ask if you can record audio if your appointment on your phone. There are plenty of free apps, like iTalk, which will easily do this.
Get written instructions and information before you leave: Ask your doctor to summarize the instructions and clarify anything you’re not familiar with. If they don’t have time to address all your concerns, requests brochures and handouts with the exact information you need.
Schedule a follow-up: If all of your questions weren’t answered, schedule another visit so that more time can be devoted to your concerns.
Keep asking questions: It’s only natural to have a new question pop up after a doctor’s visit or suddenly remember one you forgot to ask. Call the office early in the day and you should receive a response by the close of business.
Access medical records: Ask your doctor how to access your medical records, test results and treatment plan online.
Check out this helpful video from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which shows doctors explaining the importance of having patients ask questions during their medical visit. Consumer Health Choices has also released an excellent resource for helping you get the most out of your doctor’s visit.