Get the most out of your doctor visit: 7 things you need to know

  • "What brings you here today, Mr. Jones?" the doctor asks as he enters the room.

    "Well, Doctor, I started feeling kind of crummy a while back and I've noticed that the feeling comes and goes.”

    "How long ago did it start? Can you describe your symptoms?"

    "I'm not quite sure when it started. It may have been a month ... or so, ago... maybe longer. I can't remember exactly how I felt then and I'm not sure if the symptoms I’m having now are the same. I just know I don't feel very good."

    The exchange continues…

    …The doctor sees by his watch that he has already used half of Mr. Jones appointment time and thinks, "I will have to work hard to pull information from this patient. I am behind and it is going to be very difficult to get to a diagnosis…”*

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    Unfortunately for Mr. Jones, he didn’t communicate well with his doctor, and as a result, his care may be less than what it should be. Don’t be like Mr. Jones. Start today to make the most of your next appointment – for you, and your doc. Here are seven things you need to know.

    Before You Go

    1.) Think of your doctor as your partner

    Modern health care requires you, as a patient, to become an equal partner in understanding and treating your condition. You and your doctor must tackle health problems side by side, as a team.

    2.) Write your questions

    In between appointments you should jot down any and all questions you’d like to ask your doctor.

    Keep a running list where you’ll see it often and be able to find it when you need it. If you get the answer to a question before your next appointment, that’s great! Just cross it off the list!

    3.) Be organized
    Get a folder or notebook to hold your health information and keep it all together. This notebook should have:

    · Notes and instructions from your last appointment, a good record of medication and treatment changes, vital signs, weight, etc.

    · Questions you have since your last appointment (see #2 above)

    · Results of tests or health screens (such as those from Health Fairs) you’ve had done at places other than your doctor’s office. The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to possess this information.

    · A list of the medications you’re currently on and what they’re supposed to do. You should be carrying a copy of this – along with emergency notification – in your wallet at all times.

    · Ads, brochures, or materials – in brief – that relate to your disease.

    · DON’T show up with a notebook the size of a dictionary! Do not show more than one or two materials (as mentioned above) to your doc at each appointment. S/he does not have time to go through this, and too much information will only frustrate both of you.

    Once You’re There

    4.) Get down to business

    Say hello and get down to the business at hand – that would be what’s been going on with your health since your last appointment. Margo Corbett, author of The Savvy Patient’s Toolkit,** tells us that patients who state their concerns within the first two minutes of the appointment get the best results. She also says, “A patient is interrupted within 18 - 23 seconds after he or she begins to speak at the start of an appointment. Once the provider interrupts, s/he starts asking questions, and guides the rest of the appointment…At the point of the first interruption, you, the patient, are then on the provider's agenda and in his/her stream of thought. When this happens, it becomes easy to get sidetracked and not remember everything you wanted or needed to tell, ask, or achieve during your appointment.


  • Therefore, what you say in the first 18 - 23 seconds makes the difference in your ability to finish your two-minutes of information. If you are well prepared and capture your provider's attention with the way you communicate you will have a much better chance of completing what you have to say.”

    5.) Know your meds

    Know what medications you’re on, and what they’re supposed to do. Saying that your breathing medicines, “Help open up my lungs” is not enough. Each breathing medication has a specific job and you should know what that is. If you don’t know, ask. Review all your medications with your doc (even those prescribed by other doctors – specialists, your doctor at the V.A., and others, as well as vitamins and herbal supplements). Ask about medication side effects and interactions. Learn how to use your inhalers properly by asking for a demonstration – and then do a return demonstration to make sure you’ve got it right. Learn what changes to your medications you should make on your own in response to changes in your condition.

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    5.) “So, what brings you here today?”

    Tell your doc what happened to make you ask for the appointment, or in the case of a routine physical, tell your doc what – if anything – has changed since last time. Be specific (this is where your list of questions comes in). Your doctor wants to help you, but will not be able to do so with vague, confusing information as we learned in the scenario above. Unless you report changes in your health, your doc will assume you’re doing exactly as you were the last time you visited. If you have asthma, an Asthma Diary can be very effective in showing your doc specifically what’s been going on in your airways, as well as the effects of irritants and triggers. To get an Asthma Diary, see the information at the end of this blog.

     

    6.) Be honest

    Still having trouble quitting smoking? Puffing more than prescribed on Albuterol? Tell your doc! Can’t quite get the hang of using your inhaler? Ask for help! Be honest with your doc – and demand honesty in return. This means that you should know the numbers on your lung function test and be given information on your lung condition. It’s a good thing to know your numbers.

    7.) Respect your doctor’s time and limitations

    Like it or not, the current health care system is requiring doctors to squeeze more into each day, and that means we have to do all we can by working within that system. Margo Corbett reminds us that health care providers see a different patient every 15 to 30 minutes all day long. When it’s your turn, how well do you get your doctor’s attention with what you have to say? How well do you engage him/her so that s/he will really hear you and attend to your needs?

    Your doctors and health care professionals entered the profession to help you, and for the most part are doing the very best they can to assure you are as healthy and happy as possible. So, do your part. Know what you need to know – and do what you need to do – to help your doc help you.


  • Still not sure? Read more from Jane Martin to see if your doctor meeting your needs.

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    To receive your Asthma Diary send a self-addressed stamped business size envelope to:

    Jane M. Martin

    P.O. Box 2043

    Holland, MI 49422-2043

    *published with permission from Margo Corbett. www.savvypatienttoolkit.com

    ** The Savvy Patient’s Toolkit by Margo Corbett. Scheduled for release in June, 2008. Infinity Publishing.

Published On: April 15, 2008