A Doctor’s Tips for your Next Appointment

By Woodward Rivers

Whether you are someone who comes to the doctor each Tuesday to say “Hi” on your way to the grocery store, or are someone who avoids a healthcare setting until your family drags you kicking and screaming to be seen for your leg that is falling off, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your visit:

Bring a relaxation activity: Even though a lot of us don’t wear white coats these days, many people have a spike in their blood pressure when they arrive at clinic – perhaps because they are just so happy to see us. If you have ever experienced stage fright or been the recipient of bad news, you know how poorly our brains function and absorb information under stress. The same thing can happen during your visit. Regardless of how long you have to wait, you will get more out of your visit if you are feeling as calm as possible. Whether it is a good fiction book, some relaxing music in your head phones, a meditation, or a friend, be intentional about bringing something to help you feel grounded prior to your visit.

Make a list: Even if your brain is at its calmest, lists are important to help us stay organized. Write down two or three items that you want to remember to address at your visit. If you have more than three things write them down as well, but make sure to know which ones are your priorities and which could be addressed at a follow-up. Know that many specialist offices are only able to focus on one item per visit. Make sure your provider sees your list at the beginning of the visit so they can strategize with you – it is possible that something such as chest pain was low priority on your list but is high priority for them.

Answer four questions: For each concern you have, particularly if it is something more than a minor injury, I encourage you to answer four questions:

  • What do you think might be going on?
  • What do you think caused it?
  • What are you worried it could be?
  • What do you think will make it better?

Most of us have some semblance of these four questions in our head already. Either from internet research or from experiences and opinions of friends and family members. If you don’t have an answer to these questions, that is ok. But if you do have answers to these questions, it is important that you share them with your doctor so that she can tell you how your symptoms do or do not fit with the ideas and fears that you brought with you.

Take notes: I trained in medicine for twelve years and still have trouble navigating our healthcare system. I always take notes when I have a medical appointment and you should too. Not only notes regarding what your doctor thinks is going on, but notes on referral locations, follow-up instructions, and things to watch out for. If you are not a “note-taker,” bring a friend or ask your doctor to write instructions for you.

Be honest: You may be the type to tell your great-aunt that you love her gift of a Christmas sweater with bells attached so as not to hurt her feelings. Telling your doctor what you think they want to hear is not what they actually want to hear. We all get to decide what we want to do with our own bodies. If your doctor recommends something that you don’t want to do, tell them. In illness and in life, there is always more than one option.

Be kind to staff: Doctors often get all of the credit in the hospital or the clinic while the receptionists and the nurses are the ones who often do the hardest work. If you are feeling grateful, make sure to tell the medical assistant or the receptionist – they don’t hear it enough.

Keep in touch: How our healthcare system was allowed to simultaneously develop such a multitude of electronic medical systems that do not immediately and easily transfer medical information is one of the greatest failures of our free market. Rather than launch a diatribe, I want to emphasize the importance of taking responsibility for your health history. Do not assume that we know everything that has transpired in your health since your last visit and be sure to notify us of major changes – this is the best way to avoid medication mistakes or missed diagnoses. If you are not getting better, be sure to come back. Diagnosing illness involves using probabilities. We make sure there is not something life threatening and then treat you for the most probable culprit. Sometimes this is clear and easy, other times it will take time. Do not assume that, having tried one medicine or had one x-ray, that your work-up is done. If you are not feeling better, our job is not done.


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