You just left the doctor’s office. Maybe your head feels stuffy, you have a fever, or your stomach is upset. You may have received surprising or stressful information and feel anxiety, fear, frustration, or relief. Your hands could be full of medical instructions, prescriptions, and insurance forms.
Perhaps you forgot to ask questions or did not understand the responses to your questions. The doctor may have provided information and instructions that were difficult to understand.
With so much happening during a doctor’s appointment, it is not surprising to occasionally feel confused and troubled. However, there are ways to make your appointment more productive. Planning and organization are key to a successful patient relationship with your physician.
Organize Your Medical Information
If you are seeing a doctor for the first time, call ahead to the office and ask if there are forms you should complete. Many medical offices have forms available online or will mail them to you prior to the appointment. This not only saves time, but also allows you to access other records and answer questions accurately.
If you are having medical records or test results transferred, ask if these documents have arrived before your visit. It can take several days or weeks for records to be transferred.
When taking your own medical records and other information (e.g., food diaries, medication lists), consider organizing documents in a binder or folder with labeled pockets. This will help you easily access specific information. If you are responsible for the medical information of another person, for example an aging parent or a child, it is helpful to have separate binders for each individual.
Lists can provide useful information. Create a list of symptoms, and be as specific and descriptive as possible. Distinguishing between a sharp, stinging pain and a dull, throbbing ache can make a difference in the diagnosis. Note if symptoms occur at certain times and the date they first began.
Be as thorough and specific as possible and include details, even those that seem unimportant. What may seem inconsequential to you, could be the key to diagnosis and effective treatment.
Include a list of all medications or take the pill bottles or containers to your appointment. Your physician will need specific information about all medications, including name, dosage, frequency, date prescribed, and the prescribing physician. Remember to include over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs, or alternative medications you take. Make a note of any allergies or reactions you have to medications, or unusual side effects you may have experienced.
Heredity is a factor in many conditions or diseases, so include a list of health or medical conditions that run in your family. If you have been hospitalized or had surgery, note the specifics of each event, including dates.
Take other information that may be helpful. For example, if seeing a doctor for gastrointestinal problems, it may be helpful to keep a food diary for a few days prior to your visit. If you have diabetes, bring your blood sugar log. Sleep patterns, exercise habits, and use of alcohol or tobacco products are all questions included on a thorough medical history.
Finally, make a list of any specific questions you have. Organize your information and take a pen and paper for notes.
The Day of Your Appointment
For accurate results, some medical procedures and tests require that you fast from food and liquids for several hours, or refrain from taking specific medications, including over-the-counter and herbal products. When making the appointment ask if there are any instructions for appointment preparation and be sure to follow them.
On the day of your appointment, arrive on time or early. Dress in clothes that are easy to remove and are appropriate for your examination. For example, if you have a knee problem, wearing shorts can make the examination simpler for you and your doctor.
Consider taking a friend or family member with you, especially if you are in pain or are anxious about the visit. If you are having a procedure that makes you drowsy or could impair your ability to function, the doctor’s office will recommend you bring someone with you to take you home.
If you have mobility problems and anticipate the need for assistance getting into the office, tell the office staff beforehand. They can tell you where to park and direct you to elevators and accessibility ramps.
Talking with your Physician
Doctors and health care personnel are very busy; you will probably have a limited amount of time to talk with your doctor. The more prepared and organized you are, the more benefit you will receive from your visit.
As you talk with your doctor, be honest and accurate about your medical history and information. It can be difficult to share medical information that seems embarrassing, is very personal, or is frightening; but it is essential that your doctor know all the facts. Complete information makes it easier for your doctor to accurately diagnose your condition.
Stay on track when talking with your doctor. It can be tempting to share family news or make small talk, but a focused conversation is much more productive. If you have questions about your diagnosis, tests, treatment, and options, ask your doctor and take notes. Let the doctor know if you do not understand and need more information.
If you have concerns about payment or insurance, it is best to handle those before your appointment. Always make a note of the date and the name of the person who spoke with you. If you have medical insurance, bring the preferred drug list from your insurance provider. Some insurance plans only cover certain drugs or generic medications.
Marna Holland, PhD
Parent Educator, Asheville City Preschools, Asheville, NC
Ask the Doctor Checklist, www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/ask-the-doctor-checklist-ask-the-doctor-checklist
How to Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Visit, www.parade.com/articles/editions/2007/edition_09-30-2007/Doctors_Visit and www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=47165