How to Prepare for your Doctor’s Office
How to get the most out of your visit to the doctor.
When going to the doctor, giving him or her the most accurate information possible is a vital step—your doctor might not be able to make an accurate diagnosis without it. But as you may have noticed, you only get a limited time with the doctor, so it can be easy to forget important facts and details in the moment. The best way to have an efficient appointment and ensure you get quality treatment? Pretend you are a Boy Scout: be prepared.
Today’s article is a selfish one; I’m going to tell you how to make your doctor happy by giving you tips on how to prepare for your visit. Not only will you make your doctor happy, but you’ll also benefit from better treatment.
How to Prepare for Your Doctor’s Office
In my article on how doctors solve medical mysteries, I talked about how important it is for a doctor to listen to the story the patient tells. A good doctor knows what questions to ask to get the story straight, but it’s far better when the patient cooperates. Here are a few things that you can do to prepare for your doctor’s office and tell a good story:
Tip #1: Write Things Down
Taking a few minutes to get your facts straight will make a big difference. I’m not sure why, but people get nervous when they come to the doctor and they forget to mention important facts. Here are some things you should always know:
When did the symptoms start?
Have you ever had these symptoms before?
Have you taken medications for it? Did they work?
Is there a pattern to your symptoms? Do they happen at a certain time of day, or after eating?
Is there anything you do that makes you feel better or worse?
Also write down anything else you want to ask the doctor. Remember, you have limited time for the visit and you may forget important things.
Tip #2: Give Symptoms, not a Diagnosis
It isn’t a good idea to greet your doctor with something like, “I think I have a sinus infection,” or “I am worried that I am having a heart attack.” I am not saying that you should keep your opinions to yourself, but it’s much better for your doctor to avoid jumping to conclusions when hearing your story. Heart attacks, for example, can present in very subtle ways. If a person comes in saying they think their asthma is causing their difficulty breathing, the doctor may assume the patient is right, and will miss symptoms that suggest heart problems.
The best time to give your diagnosis is after the doctor has listened to the story and made his list of possible causes. In this circumstance, the patient asking “could this be my heart?” is very useful. Patients often think of things that I would otherwise miss. You just want your doctor to hear your story unbiased before you tell your theory.
Tip #3: Know Your Medications
As a doctor who specializes in internal medicine, I’ve seen many patients come in with symptoms related to their medications--either prescriptions, over-the-counter, or natural medications. You take medications for their positive effect, but never forget that there can always be negative effects too. Here’s how to be most helpful regarding your medications:
Keep an accurate medication list: Bring this list with you to every visit.
Bring in the medication: If you are confused as to what medications you are supposed to be taking, bring the bottles in and let the doctor sort it out.
Write down when each medication was started: I often have patients tell me their symptoms have gone on for two months and then later noticed they started a medication at that time.
Be honest: Don’t be scared to tell your doctor if you haven’t been taking your medications. Yeah, you may get a lecture, but it is really important that your doctor knows exactly what’s going on.
[[AdMiddle]Think about every medication you take: Don’t forget about over-the-counter and alternative medicines you are taking. They can have side effects, and they can also interact with prescription medications you take.
Tell your doctor about other doctor visits: If another doctor started or stopped medications since your last visit, make sure you tell your doctor. Don’t assume he knows about it; most of the time he doesn’t.
Tip #4: Don’t Leave the Doctor’s Office Confused
The most important part of a doctor’s visit actually happens when you walk out the door. If you are confused or don’t trust what the doctor told you, you have wasted a visit. My job as a doctor is to direct the patient and help them, but they are the ones who take the medications, get the tests done, and deal with the sickness or disease. When you walk in the door of the exam room, you hand your problem to the doctor and get their help; when you walk out the door, the problem is handed back to you and your doctor moves on to the next patient.
What You Need to Know Before Leaving the Doctor’s Office
Here are important things to know before you leave:
All about your prescription: What are the medications for? What should you expect when you take them?
What to do about existing medications: Are there any medications you should stop? Doctors often forget to make it clear when replacing one medication with another that the old medication should be stopped. Simply asking the question, “So what medications should I be taking now?” will get the job done.
Test results: If tests were done in the office, what were the results, and what do those results mean?If blood was drawn or tests were ordered, what are they for and when should you hear about the results?
Follow-up treatment: If a consult or procedure was ordered, when should you hear about this being scheduled? What does the doctor want to find out from the consultant or procedure? Also, when should you come in for follow-up?
Symptoms: What symptoms should you look out for to know when to call back?
Many doctors realize that a little communication at the end of the visit can make things work much better, but some don’t. Confusion isn’t necessarily the patient’s fault. Make sure you don’t leave confused.
Tip 5: Assume Nothing
The sad truth is that American health care is disorganized. My frustration with this is a common topic for my blog. Unfortunately, the responsibility to keep your care organized falls predominately on you. Remember the following:
Never assume “no news is good news”: Doctors don’t always get results of tests-- or if they do they can be misplaced in the record. Asking “When should I get the results” at the end of a visit will give you an idea of when you should call.
Don’t assume doctors communicate: It frustrates and angers me to say this, but I don’t always know when my patients have seen specialists, gone to the emergency room, been hospitalized, or even when they’ve had surgery. It is bad. It is wrong that it’s this way, but it is an unfortunate reality. Call your primary care doctor to make sure she knows about anything done elsewhere.
That’s it for this weeks’ article. Next week will be my one year anniversary gala. I am going to do another mystery diagnosis article. Be there or be square.
Let me once again remind you that this podcast is for informational purposes only. My goal is to add to your medical knowledge and translate some of the weird medical stuff you hear, so when you do go to your doctor, your visits will be more fruitful. I don’t intend to replace your doctor; he or she is the one you should always consult about your own medical condition.
Catch you next time! Stay Healthy!