Have you ever left a healthcare appointment overwhelmed and confused? Perhaps you were determined to better understand your role in disease prevention or managing your symptoms, but, by the end of the visit, you found yourself barely keeping up with the conversation. Unfortunately, you are not alone. Many find the language of the fast-paced medical landscape daunting, complicated, and, at times, even intimidating. Here are ten tips to improve your next appointment and your health!
1. Make a list of 5 questions, concerns or issues you want to have addressed. Prioritize them because some may need to wait for a later visit.
2. Bring paper and pencil. Chicken scratch on the back of a paper napkin from your pocket or purse is not ideal. Write down answers to the questions you posed and any new questions that arise during the visit for starters.
3. Extra ears. Bring a friend, sibling, spouse, child or health advocate along to listen. Two sets of ears are always better than one! You may also consider recording the visit–it is always advisable to let everyone know you are doing so.
4. Bag of meds. Put all your current medications in a clear plastic bag and bring it along to the appointment. You don’t want to be asking about the little round pinkish pill another doctor prescribed–the prescription bottle, with its label, holds a wealth of information. Also list or bring any over the counter medications including vitamins and herbal remedies.
5. List of allergies. What drugs, foods and environmental allergies do you have and what was your reaction to them.
6. Health care team. Who cares for you? Make a list of all the caregivers currently providing care to you and their phone and fax number. Even with a primary care physician overseeing your care, it is still a good idea to know who is responsible and prescribing for each medical issue.
7. Results and Diaries. Bring a copy of any recent test results. Likewise, if you have been asked to keep a blood pressure, blood glucose, sleep or symptom diary–don’t forget it. This information is very valuable.
8. Expandable file, 3-ring binder, patient portal, or personal health record (PHR). The method you choose is one of personal preference, but keeping your own set of medical records just makes good sense. Some are tech savvy and like the convenience of programs and apps which allow you to maintain your own health information electronically. Others, feel more comfortable storing their private health information in a binder or folder. Regardless, bring a folder to each appointment to gather the educational materials, appointment cards, prescriptions, lab slip requests and physician instructions.
9. Squeaky wheel vs a bit of honey. In most medical offices, reception staff and ancillary medical staff are instrumental in the function and efficiency of an office. Additionally, they may have a lot of autonomy in how they prioritize and accomplish their assigned tasks. My advice, be pleasant and respectful. If you are tight on time, inquire (when you arrive) how the doctor’s schedule is running–ahead, on time etc. When it comes to scheduling additional tests, surgeries etc., these same staff members are the ones to make it happen. I find a kind approach will go a long way. If the situation rightfully calls for more action than you are receiving, then squeak.
10. Empower yourself and those you care about to approach their healthcare with the desire and confidence to understand and implement the best healthcare plan. Don’t be hesitant or feel that expressing and fully understanding your health issues is an inconvenience. After all, your health is the reason for the appointment.
To further encourage a more involved approach to your next visit, check out a wonderful video from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.