How to Get the Most out of Your Doctors Appointment

Now that I'm back to seeing patients regularly, I have noticed some of the struggles patients have in getting the most out of their doctor's appointments.  This is really amplified when we are all wearing masks and social distancing. Patients are often nervous, forget their questions, and may feel disconnected as we are often clicking on the computer. To make things worse, now we are all in masks.  Facial expressions are lost.  It is very difficult on the physician end as well. I was giving a tough cancer diagnosis last week, and it was so hard to communicate this news with masks on.

Many people will feel rushed at the doctor. It is important to know that each appointment is allotted a certain amount of time.  Therefore, it is essential that you communicate your problem in detail and exactly why you are coming in when you make your appointment.  For example, if you have a routine follow up scheduled, the doctor may not have time allotted to discuss a new issue.  This leads to the next issue of having to wait at the doctor's office.  Often, a new problem will come up with a patient that must be taken care of.  Hence, the doctor may run behind.  It can be a vicious cycle.  

In addition to communicating your exact issue, make sure you have all of your records, X-rays or any other information with you.  Do not rely on records being sent by another office.  Although we all have electronic medical records, there can be compatibility issues, forms to sign, etc.  It is always best to keep your own copies of all of your health information.

Be succinct and direct with the physician.  While we like to tell the whole story, it is more effective to have an efficient statement of the problem.  For example, " I have been having abdominal pain on my right side for 3 months which worsens after I eat."  This allows the doctor to direct the questions to lead them to the appropriate work up and diagnosis.

Write down your questions and bring them with you.  Give a copy of your questions to the assistant checking you in.  The doctor will then be prepared to cover your questions during your visit.  Bring writing materials to take notes or bring a trusted family member to write things down for you.  It is estimated that patients may only recall 10% of information at their doctors appointments.  This also helps me to know exactly what information you want to know.  I may explain lots of medical information, but there may be specific things important to you that are not covered in my routine explanations.

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