Navigate Doctor Appointments Like a Pro

Patient-doctor communication is one of the fundamental skills in medical practice. It is the verbal and nonverbal processes through which a doctor obtains and shares information with a patient, thereby developing a trustworthy, therapeutic relationship. Not only do doctors have to be fair and unbiased to make patients feel they are treated with respect at all times, but you as the patient also need to be comfortable discussing your lifestyle and health history so your doctor can best address your health concerns and keep you healthy.

Especially now that many office visits last no longer than 20 minutes, barely enough to cover all your pressing health issues, your top priority prior to and during doctor appointments should be getting ready to give and get information as much as possible. The more your doctor knows about you, the better a job he or she can do to help you stay healthy. Being prepared can help you provide your doctor with significant information he or she needs to recommend the best treatment; it can also help you take better care of yourself.

Before the Visit: Do Your Homework

There are plenty of distractions that may arise during your doctor appointment, which may easily cause you to forget questions you did not make a note of in advance. It is crucial to scribble down your questions before your visit. Bring a checklist with questions concerning your current health state as well as questions you anticipate having after the exam, be they about your prescribed medications or your symptoms. Keep a symptom diary on a routine basis. Make a very specific list about your symptoms as far as when they started to appear, how they have changed over time and what may have been the triggers, etc. This will help your doctor understand the progression of the problem.

Morning of the Visit: Remember What to Bring

Bring your insurance card and any forms you need filled out. If you have more than one health care provider, organize your own medical history file. Keep test results and family history up to date, put them in a file and take the file with you to share with your doctor. Bring a pen and a notepad to take notes with. Record the visit and replay the recording later, which could assist you in better understanding instructions and information given by your doctor that you may have missed or not fully grasped at the time of the visit.

Toss all your prescription drugs, over-the-counter remedies, as well as herbal supplements in your medicine tote and bring it to your doctor appointment. Tell your doctor the dosage and the frequency of each drug you are taking. In addition, let your doctor know what drugs you have tried before that caused side effects/adverse reactions or simply did not work. Examining all your medications will help your doctor figure out if you are experiencing any problems with drug-drug/drug-food interactions or if you are taking any medications you do not need.

During the Visit: Ask Questions and Tell Your Doctor ALL about You

Loop your doctor in on your past health history, your family’s health history, and your own lifestyle history if he or she has not been informed of it already or if anything has changed since your last visit. Be honest with your doctor about every last thing you are doing that could affect your health in any way, including your diet, exercise, along with tobacco, alcohol and/or illicit drug use, and do not leave out any details. Your doctor wants to know about everything that might have a powerful impact on you.

Explain your feelings. Never be embarrassed about consulting your doctor on a personal matter. Ask your doctor what tests you need and when to get them. Ask your doctor where you can learn more about your problems or treatment options. Make sure you are fully aware of what your doctor says. Ask your doctor to explain or repeat if you have questions or if you do not understand. Write down instructions you are given and read them back to your doctor to confirm if you have heard them correctly.

After the Visit: Evaluate Your Doctor and Learn How to Reconnect

Schedule tests and/or your next appointment before you leave. Find out your doctor’s communication preferences early will make it easier to follow up with questions in case you are confused or forget about something when you get home. Do not leave if you are uncertain about your diagnosis or treatment plan.

In the event of an unpleasant office visit, try discussing your concerns first, and make a good-faith effort to build a relationship of trust and respect with your doctor. If it is not working out, you are not obligated to stay. Ask to see another doctor in the same practice, ask friends and family for recommendations, do your own research, or ask your health insurance plan which network provider could potentially be a good fit for you based on your individual situation.

Recommended Readings:

Speak UP: Tips for Your Doctor’s Visit—The Joint Commission

How to Get What You Want from the Doctor—Family Education

Questions to Ask Your Doctor—Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

This article was written by Mildred D. Li, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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