A successful doctor-patient relationship starts with good communication and a partnership where both work toward the best outcome. With preparation, you can become an active partner in your health, making sure that you leave each appointment well informed and satisfied with the care received.
Below are some tips you can use to prepare and participate fully during each doctor’s appointment. These research-based suggestions also apply to other healthcare professionals, including counselors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other healthcare providers.
Before the Visit
Gather your information and identify key goals for your visit. It may help to make lists that cover important details: your goals for the visit, your symptoms and current medications.
· Your Goals
Are you going to the doctor to solve a problem? If so, be prepared to explain that to your physician. If you’re trying to make sure you’re up to date on screenings, immunizations or other health preventative procedures, be sure to outline those concerns. You’ll want to clearly convey this to the receptionist when making the appointment so that he/she can recommend more appointment time, if needed.
· Your Symptoms
When describing your symptoms, try to anticipate the types of questions a doctor might ask to better prepare. For example, below are questions a doctor might ask:
- How would you describe the symptom?
- When did you start to feel this?
- How long does it last?
- What seems to bring it on?
- Have there been any changes in your life that might have something to do with your symptom?
- How have you tried to resolve the issue and has it helped?
- Has anyone else in your family experienced this problem?
For recurrent symptoms, you may want to keep a journal to record the frequency of the condition, your diet and other factors occurring that might be affecting you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Discuss Sensitive Issues
Be prepared to be absolutely honest with the doctor about your lifestyle, including mental health, diet, sexual history, alcohol intake, smoking history, supplements taken and other care received.
Although it may be awkward at first, just remember that the doctor is collecting all of the information needed to help you become healthier. By discussing difficult issues, you’ll learn more about your health and your doctor will obtain the information needed to recommend the best treatment. If you feel you can’t talk with your doctor or your doctor doesn’t take your concerns seriously, don’t be afraid to seek out another one.
Make a list of all the medications you take. Your doctor may even ask you to bring them with you. Be sure to list all your prescription drugs. Write down any over-the-counter medicines, herbs or supplements you take. Write down medicines you've stopped taking and the reason you or your doctor stopped them.
For each drug, note:
· The name of the drug
· How often you take it
· When you take the drug
· The strength of the drug
· What the drug is for
· The last time you took it
During the Visit
Start the conversation by asking your doctor when the best time would be to discuss your concerns and indicate that you have prepared a list of symptoms and goals you’d like to review with him/her. This will enable your doctor to determine how much time to spend on each issue and whether a separate appointment is needed to discuss all of your concerns.
During the visit, it’s also important to ask questions until you feel you completely understand the information and terms your doctor is discussing. Some questions you might consider asking are:
When tests, treatments, or other procedures are recommended:
- What happens during this procedure and why is it necessary?
- How long will it last?
- Are there risks with this procedure?
- How much will it cost and will my insurance cover it?
- Are there any other treatment options available?
When a diagnosis is made:
- How is this condition treated or managed and how long will it last?
- What long-term effects will the condition/illness/diagnosis have on me?
When medications are prescribed:
- When should I take this medicine and should it be taken with food or milk?
- What potential side effects could there be?
- Will it interact with other medications?
- What if I miss a dose?
- Is there a less-expensive, generic brand of the same drug available?
When discussing your concerns, it may be helpful to repeat back what you heard and ask, "Is that correct?" This will help establish that you are correctly interpreting information and will clarify any confusion you might have with terms or instructions.
Follow Up Appointments
Note that chronic conditions should be managed in doctor visits over the length of the condition. It is important to follow up as instructed.
In other circumstances, you will need to follow up in a way agreed upon by both you and your doctor. Remember, you have a right and a responsibility to ask as many questions as needed to make sure you understand your condition and treatment.
Write Down Instructions
Be sure to ask the doctor to write down any instructions concerning medication or treatment. Also, ask for materials about your condition, which can help further educate you about your treatment.
It’s also a good practice for you to write down details during your visit. Many times, it is very helpful to bring family members, care-givers, and/or other advocates to the actual appointment.
After the Visit
Be consistent in following the doctor’s orders and take steps to maintain good health.
- Fill your prescriptions consistently — Make sure you use your pharmacist as a resource. The pharmacist can clarify your doctor's instructions and may offer additional information. Don’t be afraid to ask about your medication.
- Take drugs as directed — For your medications to work, you should take them at the same time every day. Make it a habit.
- Exercise — You’ve got to exercise to keep your body healthy. When you exercise you will:
- Help your heart pump better
- Get more energy
- Look and feel your best
- Reduce stress
- Increase self-esteem
Be sure to discuss with your doctor the appropriate fitness program for you before you get started.
- Eat healthy — If you don’t have dietary restrictions, you don’t have to give up fried chicken or ice cream completely. Just be smart about how often and how much you eat. Try using the "80/20" rule. Eat healthy foods 80 percent of the time. Then you can indulge – in moderation – 20 percent of the time.
Most importantly be sure to discuss your daily diet with your doctor to make sure you understand the foods that you may need to avoid, due to existing conditions.