The upside is that they can actually see, treat and help many people in a typical day. But it also means that both doctor and patient need to be as efficient as possible to get the most out of that precious quarter-hour.
Dr. Mark Ott, Chief of Surgery at Intermountain Medical Center, gives pointers on how you can help to be prepared for the visit, and together you can both do a better job. Here’s how:
Before Your Doctor’s Visit: Gather the Facts
Be ready with the details of your current medications, recent test results and your medical history.
Let’s start with medications. Make a list of prescription drugs as well as any over-the-counter medicines or herbal medications you may have been taking. Here’s a tip: If it’s too much trouble to write down all the names and dosages, just sweep your whole array of medicine bottles into a plastic bag and bring them with you.
Next, be sure to bring copies of your latest X-ray or MRI reports or any other test results, including reports from specialists you’ve seen. Include the specialists’ contact information— phone numbers, e-mail addresses and so forth. As a doctor treating you, I want to be sure that any treatment I provide works with, and not against, what your other doctors are recommending.
Get your history straight—your medical history and your family’s. Your doctor needs to know about any previous hospitalizations, as well as old or current medical problems, even if they are not the reason you are going to the doctor this time.
Genetics matter too. Gather information on the medical background of every member of your family. (For more on how to create a family tree on medical conditions, see page 6.)
If you have diabetes: Record your daily bloodsugar measurement and bring along your log.
Finally, if you have high blood pressure: Get a series of readings at home during the week prior to your visit so your doctor can gauge whether your numbers have spiked just because you are in a busy medical clinic—a phenomenon known as “white coat hypertension.”
Prior to the Visit: Prepare Yourself
Call your doctor’s office a day or two before your scheduled visit to check whether you should skip breakfast or lunch. Some blood tests require that you show up with an empty stomach. Knowing this beforehand can save you another trip to the lab.
If you have medical insurance, be sure to take any insurance cards you’ll need to present at the office for reimbursement.
If your condition is complicated or you are trying to make serious decisions about your health and can get overwhelmed easily, consider bringing along a family member or friend to your appointment. Your “appointment buddy” can help take notes, ask questions and give you support. Set some rules ahead of time: Do you want him or her to step outside during the physical examination? Can sensitive personal information be openly discussed? How proactive should he or she be?
Then sit down and think about what you want to get out of the visit. This is the time to understand that your 15 minutes cannot address everything. You may have five or six issues on your mind, but realistically you are going to have time to deal with, at most, your top three. Decide what these are before going in. Consider making a second appointment or booking a double appointment if you believe your issues are complicated or so numerous as to require the extra time.
The important point is to set your own priorities for the day you walk into the office.
Seeing the Doctor: Your Time To Be Heard
Show up a few minutes early and be prepared to fill out some forms.
Now is your time to be heard, but you also have a job to do. Start with your most pressing questions right away, the ones you’ve thought about beforehand. This is not the time to be shy. Like many physicians, I often find patients waiting until the very last minute to bring up important matters that are frightening or perhaps embarrassing. “Oh, and by the way, Doc…” is how this part of the conversation often begins, but by then, there’s almost no time left before the next patient needs to see me.
When recounting your symptoms, be as specific as you can. Your doctor will guide you with questions, but try to be accurate: When exactly did the pain start? What part of the body is affected most? How long does the pain last? Be as descriptive as possible: Is the pain sharp? Does it have a burning quality, or is it dull? Try to remember and report colors, smells, intensity. Every bit of information is important in order to get to the bottom of your condition.
While you are talking, your doctor is already forming a list of possible diagnoses in her mind, taking into account your symptoms, personal history and lifestyle, family history and other factors.
You’ve done your job as a patient. Now it’s the doctor’s turn. You should expect to leave your appointment knowing the answers to three questions: What is wrong? Why? What can I do about it? In reality, your doctor may not have the definitive answers yet. Tests may be ordered and follow-ups scheduled. But you should at least be given an idea of what the doctor thinks is going on and what treatments may be possible.
You need to understand what the doctor is saying. If you find things confusing, you are not alone. Some doctors use advanced medical vocabulary. Ask them to make it simple. If you still don’t understand, ask again. You even can ask to have it explained to you with pictures or illustrations. This is your body, your life, and you have aright to know.
After the Visit: Follow Up
If your doctor prescribed medications, get them filled and start taking them right away. If at any point you have questions, you should call the office. And if you want to learn more on your own, make use of the Internet: A few Web sites with good general information are: mayoclinic.com, familydoctor.org and medlineplus.gov.
As you leave the office, be sure you’ve scheduled a follow-up appointment, if necessary. Don’t wait until you get home—you may forget. Finally, use what you’ve learned to take better control of your health and start preparing for the next appointment.
Know What To Ask:
If your doctor recommends a certain procedure, you should find out:
* Why do I need it?
* How is it carried out?
* How risky is it?
* Is there an alternative?
* Who is going to do it?
* Where will it be done?
* How fast will I get back to normal life?
To learn more go to Intermountain Medical Center at their website at www.intermountainmedicalcenter.com or check with your personal healthcare provider.