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Maximizing Your Medical Appointment

Maximizing Your Medical Appointment

Take notes either on paper or via your phone.

Last week, I discussed the issue of building trust with our medical providers. We take a huge gamble when we place our lives in the hands of physicians and other health care professionals.  In my last blog, I talked about how to find a doctor and make an appointment. This week I offer tips on how to best use your time together.

When you meet the doctor, there are ways to maximize your brief time together. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make eye contact before speaking to the physician. Once you begin talking, your doctor may take notes. This does not mean s/he is not listening.
  • When describing your symptoms, begin with the general picture and end with the specifics. Example: My stomach hurts. I feel nauseous in the morning.
  • Discuss subjective information first and then move to the objective and/or quantifiable.  Example: I feel tired. I have slept 15 hours nearly every night for the past 3 weeks.
  • Describe the impact the problem has on your life. Example: I am so tired I am unable to exercise.
  • Be brief and prioritize.  Start with the most important details and if there is time, you can add the less important information in at the end.
  • Ask for clarification. If your doctor uses words or explanations you do not understand, ask her to clarify or simplify her words.
  • Take notes. If the doctor makes suggestions, write them down either on paper or via your phone. Ask him to spell any words you might want to refer to later, such as a diagnosis, medication or procedure.
  • Take a friend. This is especially important for appointments that may be long, complicated, or not routine. Ask your companion to take notes for you.
  • Express any reservations. If your doctor suggests a treatment plan that you have some concerns about, say so. Sometimes these concerns can be easily addressed.
  • Ask if there are any alternatives. If your doctor makes a treatment suggestion and it is not one that you are prepared to follow, ask about the alternatives.
  • Keep an open mind. This can be your strongest ally. It is amazing how many people will not try a medication because of their fear of side effects, only to find out later that the reality was not anywhere near their imagination.
  • Maintain your own health records. It can really help expedite matters if you bring copies of your most recent pertinent laboratory and biopsy results.
  • Discuss the follow-up plan. If you are scheduled to have diagnostic tests, ask the doctor when you can expect the results and how these results are conveyed to you. If the results are going to be disclosed at your next appointment and if there is going to be a long interval between appointments, ask how you can obtain earlier results.

It usually takes more than one appointment to establish trust. First impressions are not always right. Even the most personable and capable physicians have bad days. Patients do not always make great first impressions either. We are often scared and hide our fear with defensiveness or other mechanisms that inhibit a good relationship. If you do the groundwork, in time the relationship will strengthen. If it does not, look for another doctor. It is your right. Remember that you are the leader in your health care team. You are managing your care; not your physician and not your insurance company.

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