Getting more from our appointments with busy doctors
We’re all familiar with the problems
- There aren’t enough experienced doctors for those of us with headache and Migraine problems.
- It can take months to get an appointment with a specialist.
- Doctors have limited time to spend with each patient.
- Sometimes, the best of practitioners come across a bit brusque and uncaring, even if they’re really not.
- Sometimes we feel that the doctor has rushed in and out of the exam room, didn’t really listen, and we didn’t get a chance to talk or ask questions.
How can we get the most from our appointments with these doctors?
Be an active participant in your care Who knows the patient best? Who spends the most time with the patient, has the best opportunities to observe symptoms, success or failure of treatment regimens, the total effects of the patient’s illness? The patient.
The most important member of your healthcare team isn’t your doctor – it’s you.
Educate yourself: Learn all you can about your condition. As you learn more, you’ll know better what to expect, what to tell your doctor, etc. Also, learn about your medications. Your pharmacy should give you a patient information sheet with each prescription. Don’t hesitate to ask questions at the pharmacy either. Your pharmacist is part of your healthcare team. In one of our online chats, Dr. William B. Young of the Jefferson Headache Center commented, “An informed patient is a better patient… I’d rather have a treatment partner than a dishrag.”
Be observant and document, document, then document some more
- Between appointments, be sure to note symptoms, reactions to medications, and other details. Also make note of questions you want to ask your doctor to help you remember them at your appointment. The more information you can give your doctor, the more benefit you’ll get from your appointments.
- Keep a note pad anywhere you might need one to make notes immediately so you don’t forget details.
- Along the way, transfer your notes into a word processing document so you can print it to take to your appointments. It’s a good idea to leave space to make notes.
- If your appointments are for headache and Migraine problems, you can print a diary or download it for use on your own computer by clicking HERE. The downloadable version is available for use in Word or Excel and can be modified to suit your preferences. It can also be adapted for other conditions and other doctors.
- If others around you notice things that you don’t notice, ask them to tell your or make notes for you also.
Go to your appointments organized and well prepared
If you take many medications and/or supplements, start a document on your computer, and list each of them, the dosage, the condition for which you take it, and any other pertinent information. Keep the list updated, and always take a copy to any medical appointment you have. This helps ensure that your medical records are complete and correct and reduces the amount of time spent reviewing them at your appointment. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of this document with you at all times. That way, if you unexpectedly need emergency care, you’ll be able to provide accurate information, regardless of the circumstances. You can find a complete medication management workbook in our article, Migraines and Medications - Talk About Prescriptions Month 2007.
Print two copies of your documents that you’re taking to your appointment. That allows you to give a copy to your doctor and keep a copy in front of you to make notes and ensure that you don’t forget anything. Having this printed information will not only help you remember everything, but will help you be more concise when talking to your doctor. When we’re concise and can keep the conversation going without many pauses, the appointment takes on a momentum. This can alleviate the possibility of a busy doctor thinking we’re through with our discussion.
Review your documents just before the appointment to make things fresher in your mind.
If you find asking your doctor questions to be difficult for you, rehearse it with a friend before the appointment.
Don’t hesitate to take someone close to you with you to your appointment. This can serve multiple purposes:
Much information can be packed into a short appointment. They can help you remember and interpret what was said.
If this person doesn’t understand your condition or isn’t as supportive as you need them to be, this is a good opportunity for them to learn.
When we’re ill, our emotions can lead us to misinterpret comments or read things into them. Having another person there is a good way to objectively review the appointment afterward.
Sometimes it can be good to have another concerned person there to express their thoughts and concerns to your doctor. It often reinforces what you’ve said.
If changes are made in your treatment regimen, remember to ask your doctor when you should experience results.
If you don’t already know, ask your doctor how to get answers to questions that need answered between appointments.
Be mentally and emotionally prepared for your appointment
- Keep the Psych 101 principle of “self-fulfilling prophecy” in mind. Anticipate the best response from your doctor rather than the worst and you’re more likely to get it.
- When your doctor enters the room, offer your hand for shaking and make eye contact. This establishes personal contact at the beginning. Do this at each appointment.
- When seeing a doctor for the first time, explain that you want to be an active participant in your care rather than expecting him or her to work miracles. This will help set the tone for your appointment.
- As much as possible, remain objective, and don’t take perceived attitudes personally.
- Keep in mind that some of the most brilliant doctors don’t have particularly good bedside manners.
- If you can get a doctor who is both an excellent practitioner and a personality that comes across as caring and compassionate, that’s great. However, that combination seems not to be the norm, and it’s not necessary for you to receive good medical care.
- If your doctor isn’t one who is good at conversation and offering information, ask questions.
- If the layout of the exam room or office allows, position yourself between the doctor and the door. If your doctor seems to think the appointment is over and begins to leave the room before you’re finished, politely stop him or her and let them know you have more questions.
The bottom line Being an active, educated partner in your own healthcare will help you achieve the best care. Maintaining good documentation for use during your appointments and being well organized and mentally/emotionally prepared for your appointments will help both you and your doctor to achieve your goals.
No doctor is the right doctor for every patient. Even your best efforts combined with the doctor’s best efforts may not produce a satisfactory patient/doctor relationship and satisfactory medical outcomes with some doctors. If and when that happens, don’t let it deter you. Ultimately, you are responsible for your health and doctors work for and with you. If you feel you and your doctor aren’t working well together, talk to the doctor to see if the situation can be rectified. If not, it’s to your advantage and the doctor’s for you to seek care elsewhere.
© Teri Robert, 2007.
Last updated October 13, 2007.
Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation’s Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society. Teri can be found on her website, and blog, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.