How To Help Your Doctor Help You

You and I both know you are not a human Bento box. Trying to “unpack” your health experience by neat packages of symptom categories is not what the average person has been trained to do. Your physician, on the other hand, has been trained to conceptualize and diagnose health issues based on gathering symptom information in a specific way.

Why Your Doctor Is On A Laptop

Due to changes in legal requirements related to Electronic Medical Health Records, your physician (or someone in her office) also likely now has to enter all your health information into an electronic health record. You may already have had the experience of your doctor spending a certain amount of your appointment typing away at a keyboard instead of getting to look you in the eyes or examine you.

You Can Help Your Doc

Providing information to your doctor in the way I am about to show you will allow your doctor to get that information more quickly, allowing her more quality time to spend with you in the precious 7-13 minutes per patient that she has. Why make her spend 4 minutes gathering data that could be spent answering your important questions later in the appointment?

Simply know that you can make it easier for your doctor to understand what’s important to you if you will take the time to prepare the information about your issues well before you find yourself sitting in the exam room in that fashionable paper dress.

Questions To Ask Yourself First

1.  Why Are You Here Today? How you’re going to prepare for your doctor appointment all depends, of course, on the reason why you’re seeing your doctor in the first place, so let’s start there. Is this an annual checkup? A follow-up appointment to see how a specific medication or treatment plan is working? Or is this an appointment because there is a new set of symptoms you’re experiencing?

2.  What Do You Want To Happen? You should ask yourself: What am I most concerned about?

Are you just wanting to know what a certain set of symptoms mean? Do you just want them to go away? Are you afraid you have cancer? Whatever is most concerning to you, that’s what you need to be sure you address with your doctor as clearly as possible. Say exactly what you mean: “I’m afraid these symptoms may mean I have cancer. What can you do or tell me that will let me know it’s not?” Is there anything…a symptom, a medication side effect, a part of an existing treatment plan … that is not acceptable to you?

If so, you need to use this exact language with your doctor. Say this:

“The side effects of the medication you prescribed are not acceptable to me. We need to find an alternative.”

“The level of pain I’m in on a daily basis is not acceptable to me. We need to develop a plan of treatment to address this.”

“I’ve had these symptoms for over six months and it is not acceptable to me that they continue indefinitely. We need to address them.”

If your doctor knows Why You Are Here and What You Would Like To Have Happen, there are still no guarantees. But with improved communication, hopefully, a plan of treatment to address your issues can be developed with your input.

The Simple Two-List Plan

I recommend you take the time to type up and print out two pieces of paper. Make a copy of each for your doctor. Your doctor may put them in your file, or scan them in, make notes on them and keep them or hand them back to you. Mine has done all of these things. Basically, you want to be sure you have one copy to keep in a file to refer back to, even if your doctor keeps one. Take notes on the one you’re going to keep for yourself.

1. The Prescription List

You’re going to make a list of medications and supplements that you can save and update as necessary. Include all medications and supplements you take, the dosages, when you take them, who prescribed them, and for what diagnosis, the dates you started taking them (and stopped if you no longer take them), and any side effects you experience.

Also list any allergies or negative reactions you have had to any medications. Yes, that’s a lot of information. But it will be invaluable to you and your doctor. You will not remember this information over time, especially if you take more than one or two prescriptions. And your doctor is required to get this information from you, anyway. Make it easier on yourself by handing her this paper.

2. The Symptom/Question List

This paper has two parts.

The top part is a symptom list. This is where you make it easy for your doctor to get a lot of important information by listing all the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, for how long, and with what severity. The bottom part is where you list no more than 3 questions you want answered before you leave the appointment. Limiting yourself to 3 questions doesn’t always lend itself to the reality of your health situation. But try to understand that your doctor (and your insurance company) needs to be able to address basically one health issue per visit. So, if possible, try to keep the questions you have related to one set of symptoms.

Don’t Be A Passive Patient!

One of your questions should be “What is the plan of treatment going to be and how can I help make it work?”

In case it isn’t obvious yet, you’re not a passive patient, you’re an active participant working as a member of a team with your doctor to try to address your health issues. Your doctor isn’t there to “fix” you. It doesn’t work that way. Asking what you can do to help ensure success with your treatment plan will probably help your doctor know you are on board with managing your health and may even lead to better discussions about what you can do to help yourself.

At the bottom of the page, include if you need any prescriptions refilled, along with the name and phone number of your pharmacy. Yes, your doctor probably has this information somewhere in your medical record. Yes, you should take the extra step to make it easy for her to get your prescription called in. Your doctor is going to love you for doing all of this. You get “patient of the day” and a gold star on your chart.

It’s Worth the Time

Taking the time to think about what you want before you head to your appointment, writing down or updating your prescription list, and having a list of symptoms and questions relevant to the appointment will make all the difference in: how health information is gathered about you, how your doctor can use her time with you, and ultimately what you can get out of a very limited amount of time with your doctor.

DrAnita Sanz, PhD, Psychologist

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