Help Your Doctor Help You:
Secrets of a Successful Appointment
By Kathryn Marchi
How many of us have immediately after an appointment realized that we’d forgotten to tell our doctor about a health concern or symptom? It’s happened to most people that I know. During my last visit with my primary care provider, Dr. Jamie Harms, I asked her what she would like her patients to bring to an appointment to make it successful and satisfactory for both doctor and patient.
Before I knew it, Dr. Harms handed me a pad and pencil and began dictating. The first thing she stressed was that patients will have to take on more and more responsibility in managing their own health care. The more informed they are, the better. Patients will have to be more organized in their approach to appointments in order to make the time spent with their doctor more productive.
v Make a list of your medications, both prescription and over the counter, complete with dosages, times and the reason you are taking them. If a list is difficult to make, gather all of your medications, put them in a bag and bring them with you to your appointment. You and the doctor can go through them together for inclusion in your medical records. Many times medications interact negatively. Let your doctor know if you are allergic to any medications and if you’ve recently changed or added any.
v Write down a priority list of health problems you want addressed. This way the doctor can deal with the most important ones first. Your doctor considers literally all of your symptoms. Describe them, their onset when applicable and how they affect your life. For example, if you are unable to drive your car because of dizziness, tell your doctor. If you are in pain, be prepared to rate its severity on a scale of one to 10.
v Write down questions about each health problem and be sure to ask them.
v Since doctors have specific time frames for appointments, ask the appointment scheduler beforehand if you think you will need extra time with the doctor. Many practices will consider this and reschedule you when more time is available.
v If you’ve had a medical event that rendered you unconscious or confused, bring along a witness who may be better able to attest to the symptoms and event.
v Wear appropriate clothing for examination of a specific part of your body. For example, if you have a knee injury, wear shorts or loose pant legs that can be easily pushed up.
v Be diligent about any home testing the doctor has requested and keep a detailed list to bring to your follow-up appointment. Records of blood pressure, blood sugar, migraine headaches or times that pain occurs should be carefully described to help determine what steps to take.
v Be prepared to schedule several appointments. It is sometimes difficult to evaluate a patient completely during one visit in order to form a plan of treatment.
v For test results, ask how long it will take and find out how the practice provides information. Should a patient call back for results or does the doctor or nurse call the patient? Will the results be mailed?
At first glance, these suggestions may seem like a “no brainer.” But you’d be surprised at how often patients take their doctor’s appointments for granted and don’t come prepared. Medical appointments are getting more difficult to make in a timely manner and health reform will hasten that trend with more patients crowding a limited number of practitioners’ waiting rooms.
Your doctor wants very much to help you and can do the job better if you take a few moments to prepare. This can make for a more useful appointment and a correct diagnosis with successful treatment options.
Kathryn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org