If you are going to your doctor for a routine exam, meeting with a new doctor or seeing a specialist for a recent health concern, you want to leave feeling confident, assured and with a solid sense of direction.
The problem is … before your doctor’s appointment you may experience a sense of nervousness or endure the “white coat brain lock” that stifles your ability to ask questions. You may also adopt an inferiority complex and view your doctor on a superior level, clam up and leave the appointment feeling disappointed and with many unanswered questions. You may even relate to more than one of the above scenarios.
Then there is the time factor or, more aptly, the lack of time, during appointments that poses yet another blockade to a successful doctor’s visit. Many people spend weeks prior to their doctor’s appointment thinking and worrying about what will take place, but when the appointment actually comes it’s over in the bat of an eyelash.
Most doctors maintain very tight schedules and may spend only a few minutes with each patient for routine examinations. One study conducted by the Annals of Family Medicine reported that physicians spent 17.5 minutes per patient in direct contact time.
So you’ve got to be prepared, ahead of time, in order to make the most out of those quick minutes.
The key to a successful doctor’s appointment is preparing yourself in advance and coming to your appointment with a list of questions and expectations of what you want to get out of the appointment.
Below are seven steps to help empower you to become an expert on your own health and well-being — and an active participant in your health care and treatment. By practicing these steps you will also establish an effective relationship with your doctor that fosters open communication and a thorough understanding of your overall health.
7 Steps to Getting the Most out of Your Next Doctor’s Visit
1. Get to your appointment early, do your homework and come prepared — If possible, schedule your appointment early or right after lunch to avoid the busier times. If you feel the appointment might take longer than a normal session, particularly if you are a new patient, tell the receptionist this when scheduling the appointment to allow for enough time.
Plan to arrive to your appointment at least 15 minutes early to fill out any necessary paperwork. Be sure to bring any important documentation such as medical records, x-rays and test results along with a copy of all the medications, vitamins, herbs and supplements you are taking. If time allows, you can have your medical records sent to your physician before your appointment.
2. Bring a friend or family member for an extra set of ears and added moral support — The amount of information that you have to retain during a doctor’s appointment can be overwhelming, especially if you are feeling ill, nervous or anxious.
Bringing with someone you trust can not only help put your mind at ease, but on a practical level the person can take notes for you and help you understand what your doctor said after your appointment ends. Also, if you need a particular treatment done, most physicians will allow a companion into the treatment room.
3. Don’t hesitate to tell your doctor you didn’t understand something they said — Lots of medical terminology and talking too fast can quickly lead to overwhelming feelings and information overload. If this happens, don’t feel embarrassed to speak up and tell your doctor you don’t understand or ask him or her to slow down, repeat or rephrase something.
If you’re a visual learner, you may even want to ask your doctor to draw a diagram for you. You can also repeat back what your doctor said and ask them if you said it correctly. Ask for any reading recommendations, credible websites or pamphlets about your condition, as well.
4. Bring in a list of all your symptoms and medications — The more information you share with your doctor — such as previous health conditions, if you’ve seen any other health professionals for a particular condition and a detailed list of specific symptoms such as dates when they started — the greater the chances of your doctor targeting the root of your problem and putting together an informed, personalized treatment plan. Go over all the medications you are taking so that your doctor can coordinate your plan of care and avoid prescribing anything that might interact with what you’re currently taking.
5. Be honest and open — It’s important to answer all health questions honestly, even with sensitive questions regarding drug or alcohol use, sexual history or other lifestyle habits.
If you plan to seek another opinion about your diagnosis or treatment, don’t hesitate to let your doctor know or worry about offending them. Also, don’t leave out telling your doctor you have skipped prescribed medications or deviated from a former treatment plan. It’s in your best interest to be honest about any health questions, as fibbing about answers could negatively alter your treatment plan and possibly lead to an improper diagnosis.
6. Find out about all of the resources available to you after your appointment — Many times,right after you leave doctor’s appointment you’ll remember questions you forgot to ask. You can call the office and ask to speak to the medical assistant or nurse to find out this information. The medical staff should serve as a great resource and helpful points of contact if you have any additional needs or concerns.
If they seem unwilling to help you, you may want to find a new office that is more attuned to their patients’ needs.
7. Write down a list of your needs and questions before your appointment — When making your list, do some research beforehand on your condition and treatment alternatives. This will trigger more questions and familiarize you with some of the medical terminology on your condition.
Write your list in a notebook and allow yourself space next to your questions to take notes and jot down your doctor’s responses. Before you leave the doctor’s office, look over your list and make sure all of your questions were covered. Bringing in this list will help keep the discussion with your doctor focused and targeted to your questions and concerns.
Top Health Questions to Ask Your Doctor
When you are ready to walk out the door after your doctor’s appointment you should feel comfortable about entrusting your health to him or her, and confident and informed about your diagnosis and treatment options. Your health is your top priority and creating a successful relationship with your doctor will lead to quality care and treatment. Here are some questions you can use to bring with you on your next doctor’s appointment.
If you are seeing a new doctor:
- How best to contact: emergencies vs. non-emergencies
- What routine assessments are given (annual and or health concern specific)?
- What are the standard types of treatments (what’s most often prescribed or used in the practice)?
- Do they treat symptoms? Do they help you identify cause(s)? Do they guide or provide ways to eliminate cause(s)?
- In relevant specialized area of practice what are the typical outcomes (phases and timing)?
- Are they open to second opinions?
- What are the admitting privileges? Are there any ways to save?
- What hospitals are used for non-emergencies?
- What assessments, why, how often/when, and what tests are needed?
- What are the typical treatments that nearly all your patients get?
- Do you offer alternative treatments as an option or complement to traditional treatments?
If you are seeing a doctor for specific symptoms or condition:
- Once illness or health concern is identified ask specifics as to levels and/or stages of recommended treatment? What are the causes and health concerns?
- What are immediate, progressive and long-term treatment steps? Are these cures of symptoms or cures of the cause?
- What can you do to eliminate the cause? Or reduce the cause and strengthen your body and ability to naturally control, reduce or mitigate illness?
- Are there treatment options? What about alternative treatment options?
- Ask where you can go online to learn more to become better informed?
- How could my weight be affecting or harming me?
- What is my ideal target weight?
- What is my ideal waist size?
- What is and do you recommend I target my body fat percentage and how can I test it?
- How much exercise should I get per day? How can I become more active within my lifestyle?
- Do I need to change my lifestyle?
- Get empowered! We highly recommend printing out this list of questions and taking it with you to your appointment so you leave with all of your questions and concerns answered!
Better Health February 9, 2010
Psychology Today July 29, 2009
Annals of Family Medicine 2005 November; 3(6): 494–499