Tips for opening up to your doctor
You should never come away from a doctor's appointment feeling disappointed in the care you received. Do your part -- before, during and after the examination -- to make sure your next appointment is as productive as it can be.
Making the appointment
"Preparation for a doctor's appointment occurs when scheduling the appointment," says Rick Danzey, a medical practice administrator.
Clearly state the reason why you need to see the doctor. If you're not specific about why you need to see the doctor, an appointment may be scheduled for insufficient time, which then leads to delays for those patients following you. "Every doctor I have worked with will provide all the time you need for your appointment," says Danzey.
Registered nurse Pat Cheeks agrees. "When scheduling your appointment, let the receptionist know whether or not you're seeing the doctor about more than one issue so you can be scheduled for a longer appointment." If every patient scheduled his or her appointment this way, waiting rooms would be far less crowded and wait times would be shortened tremendously.
The day of the appointment
- Dress appropriately for the appointment. Wear clothes that make it easy to have your blood pressure taken, to have blood drawn or to show the doctor the area on your body that you're concerned about.
- "Bring your insurance card and a means to pay for your co-payment," reminds Danzey. And bring any specimens, lab results or paperwork the doctor has requested.
- Bring an up-to-date list of your medications. "Include the dosage and the time it is taken," says Cheeks. "Include all prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, supplements, herbs and vitamins." And bring this list -- along with the phone and fax numbers of your preferred pharmacy -- to every appointment with every doctor.
Be on time for your appointment. "We have set a specific amount of time aside for you," says Dr. Sarah Samaan, a cardiologist from Plano, Texas, "and I want to use that time to its fullest. If you are late, everyone after you will also have their visit delayed."
In the examination room
The nurse or medical assistant will collect your vitals -- such as blood pressure and weight -- and ask questions about why you're seeing the doctor today. "Be as open as you can," suggests Danzey. "The doctor needs to know this information to prepare a diagnosis."
"Bring a list of prior and current medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, stroke or cancer," says Cheeks. List previous surgeries and procedures, such as knee replacement or x-rays. And make sure any allergies are boldly noted on your chart.
When the doctor arrives
"If you're seeing your primary care physician, this is not the time to pull out your laundry list of medical complaints," says Danzey, "but it is time to be open about the reason for you appointment so your doctor can begin to assess your condition."
If you're seeing a specialist, be prepared with questions regarding your condition. Write down what you want to know about your condition, available treatment options (including surgical and non-surgical alternatives), treatment timing and similar questions.
Be prepared to answer your health professional's questions:
- Where on your body is it hurting?
- How long does it last?
- Describe the pain -- aching, stabbing, burning.
- Does anything make the pain worse, like eating certain foods or sitting a particular way?
- Is there anything that makes the symptoms go away?
Bring along an advocate
If you can't take notes, then bring along a family member or friend who can. "Have your list of questions ready to ask," says Cheeks. "It is so easy to forget!"
Questions might include:
- What tests will be used to confirm the diagnosis? Are they accurate? Safe?
- What is the probable course of treatment and long-term prognosis with and without treatment?
- Should you call the doctor's office if symptoms worsen?
- What are the potential side effects or reactions of new medications?
- How will you be informed about test results? Should you call? Will they call you?
- What will follow-up care consist of?
Your advocate should be someone can remain level-headed and calm throughout your appointment, should you find yourself overwhelmed with the emotion of the situation. In addition to providing both physical and emotional support, an advocate can document specific instructions from the doctor, including information on upcoming appointments and tests, follow-up care and medications.
Getting and keeping you well is a team effort, so make sure you do your part!