Preparing for a Medical Appointment
Sometimes the mere thought of a medical appointment can be nerve-racking. Let alone, it can be very overwhelming as you begin to understand a medical diagnosis. Yet, individuals who engage collaboratively in their personal medical care with their doctor often have the most successful outcomes. Here are a few tips to help make the most of your medical visits:
Keep a journal
Before your appointment, write down any symptoms, when you experience them and for how long. Include as much detail as you can. No one knows how you are feeling better then yourself. It may be hard to remember everything that you have felt once you are actually with the doctor; this will help the doctor understand what you have experienced.
Know your medications
It’s important to know all of your medications, or bring all your medications including prescription, over-the-counter and herbal supplements with you. If you do not want to bring them to your appointment, write a list including the dosages of each drug and how often you are taking each. Also, mention any side effects that you’ve experienced; be aware of which medications have not worked for you either. If you are allergic to any medications, be prepared to advise the doctor as well.
Keep your calendar in mind
Schedule an appointment on a date and time that is convenient for you. Make sure your appointment is at time that you will be able to attend and will have the time to be there. Arrive early so that you have time to complete any required paperwork. If you have any medical records or lab results, bring them to your appointment.
Check your insurance
Confirm that your insurance is both active and accepted by the provider’s office. Make sure you bring a copy of your insurance card along with photo ID. Some specialists (including gastroenterologists) may require a referral from your Primary Care Provider. If you need assistance with this, please talk to a caseworker or social worker or call your insurance company directly.
Tell the doctor both everything that you are doing that can affect your current health as well as your past history (including surgeries, drug or alcohol use, eating and sleeping patterns, pain, etc.). It may not be the easiest or you may feel nervous to disclose, but remember that your medical care is kept confidential.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
This is your health, it’s important to understand what the doctor is saying and what he or she is recommending for your personal care. Ask questions and attempt to repeat in your own words what the doctor is saying. Take notes so that you can follow up or do your own personal research later. Consider bringing a trusted family member or friend; a second set of ears may help retain more information or hear something that you may not. Write down your medical problem (diagnosis), what the medical provider wants you to do next and what changes you can make that may be beneficial for your overall health. It’s important to feel as though you have been heard by your doctor, make sure your concerns are addressed. Ask for a brief summary of your appointment.
Stay in touch
Near the end of your appointment, find out the best way to follow up with the doctor or medical care team members (nurse, pharmacist, dietician, social worker, etc). You may have additional questions or need to follow up on the results of various labs or tests. Ask what the best way to reach the provider is. Some offices offer an online portal that you can review your medical assessment and send communication. Some providers themselves may be receptive to email or phone calls. Knowing the best way to communicate will make it easier to follow up with important questions and possibly prevent a frustrating game of phone tag.
The bottom line is: be honest, ask questions and collaborate in your own care!