You have a doctor's appointment and you are dreading the long wait in the lobby and then possibly a longer wait in the exam room. You become nervous and frustrated before the appointment even starts. Then, before you know it, the doctor has rushed in and out. You are left feeling confused and all of your questions were not answered. Sound familiar? Then take these simple steps to get the most out of your next appointment:
• Show up on time or early
Imagine having 20 or more mini meetings in a day and the first individual shows up 10 minutes late. What do you think that does to every meeting after that? You guessed it, they are likely to be rushed and shortened. That is what happens to a doctor's schedule when patients show up late. Be considerate and show up early or on time. Your doctor will be less rushed and able to spend more time with you. Another tip is to try to get the first appointment in the morning or afternoon and you won't be affected by other late patients.
• Bring your medications to every appointment
Your doctor has your medication list in your chart, but is it accurate? Does he or she update it at every appointment? Do you have specialists that also prescribe medications to you? An easy solution is to bring either the actual medications that you take to each appointment or a list. This could be potentially life saving, as some medications have dangerous interactions.
• Write down the top three questions you have
Think about what you would like to ask your doctor before your appointment and say, "You know, doc, I have a few questions written down here I would like to ask you." Your doctor will be impressed and be focused on answering them for you. More than three will be pushing it, as there are time constraints to an appointment. If you want to spend more time with your doctor, then ask them if they have longer appointments available.
• Write down the answers to your questions
Writing down the answers to your questions while the doctor is explaining them will be beneficial to you after the appointment. You can go back over your notes and do further research if you desire, but at least this will prevent you from forgetting the specifics of his answers.
• Turn off your cell phone
Can you imagine having an appointment with your doctor and suddenly there is a ringing coming from his pocket. He puts his finger up to stop you from explaining that pain in your back to answer his cell phone. As you listen to his conversation, you realize he is discussing his son's soccer game and that he will bring home dinner. When he is done, he tells you to please continue. Most people would be more than a little upset; after all, you are paying for this appointment and your time is valuable.
When patients answer cell phones during an appointment, it is rude and frustrating for your doctor. Their time is also valuable and other patients are waiting for them, so turn off the cell phone and your doctor will be most appreciative.
• Make sure you understand what is expected of you
You just spent the last 10- to 15-minutes with your doctor as he ordered tests and new medications for you. Did you understand everything? Ask your doctor to clarify or write down what you need to do and when you should follow up.
• Consider bringing a friend or family member to the appointment
If you get easily stressed during medical appointments, consider bringing along an advocate, such as a family member or friend. A second set of ears is a wonderful asset for you, and they may have additional questions for the doctor during the appointment. Then after the appointment, discuss what the doctor said with your companion to make sure you heard the same thing.
• Ask your doctor to inform you of all test results, normal or otherwise
This will help your doctor take better care of you. If you expect communication regarding all results, whether normal or otherwise, you will be less likely to fall between the cracks or have a missed diagnosis. Take charge of your health care and you will only benefit from it.
• Do not stop medications unless you contact your doctor first or have severe or allergic reactions
A doctor cannot help you if you do not tell them that a particular medication did not work well for you. Maybe you did not give it enough time, as some medications like antidepressants take up to a month before seeing results. Or if your blood pressure improves with medication, you have to keep taking it, otherwise the blood pressure will rise again once you stop the medication. Other medications have to be slowly weaned off as to avoid potential life threatening withdrawal effects. So, unless you have a severe or allergic reaction to a medication, call your doctor before you stop taking it.
• Remember, doctors are people, too
Last but not least, remember your doctor is a person, too, with good and bad days, anxieties, pressures, time constraints and hundreds, if not thousands, of patients relying on him for their medical care. Being polite and respectful will get more out of you appointment and doctor/patient relationship.
These simple actions can be crucial for your health by improving your communication and relationship with your doctor. Having a plan and being prepared for your appointment will improve the quality of your medical care and decrease stress.
Dr. Laurie Marbas is a family physician at Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in Rifle.