Making the Most of a Doctor Visit

Have you ever left the doctor’s office realizing that you forgot to explain half your symptoms and ask your most pressing question? What about the times your doctor has dismissed a concern, not even making a note of it, or refused to order important tests and you backed down? Whether you were rushed, flustered, angry, dismissed or just feeling too sick to really explain things, not communicating with your doctor can mean a misdiagnosis. After years of doctors visits that sometimes seemed to do more harm than good, I finally figured out how to get better results.

Schedule Your Appointment

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Picking a good time for your appointment can make things go a lot more smoothly. Here are some things to consider when picking a time:

  • How urgent is it that you get in? You may just want to take the first thing you can get.
  • If there is a time of day when your symptoms are typically worse, try to get an appointment during that part of the day.
  • First thing in the morning, and right after lunch are good times to schedule appointments because the doctor is more likely to be running on schedule. That will make the appointment feel less rushed.
  • If you know that your appointment will have to run long because of your many concerns, see if you can book an extra slot.
  • If you have other family members who need to see the doctor, try to get your appointments on the same day, or within a couple days. This way your family will be fresh in the doctor’s mind.

Write a Report

Before a doctor visit, I think carefully about what I want the doctor to help me with, then I set it down in writing, in a clear format. This report helps me stay on topic during the visit, and helps me make sure I remember to bring up all of my concerns. I take one copy for myself and one for the doctor, so we can each take notes during the visit, and I make sure the doctor’s copy becomes part of my medical record.

  1. Full Name, Date of Birth, Patient ID Number, Date of Visit This identifying information will make it easy for the office to file my report in my chart.
  2. Concerns Lead with a question in bold, then the following sections for each:
    • Symptoms This is a clear list of all the symptoms you think may be related to this concern. Writing them out is very important so that you don’t forget to give the doctor any of the relevant information. This can also help with embarrassing symptoms. It can be easier to write it than say it!
    • Research Give a short summary of the research you have done into possible causes of the problem or testing. Cite sources, which can range from scientific papers to “my friend thought it might be”
  3. Testing Requested If you have labs or other tests which you would like performed, list them here.
  4. Notes I like to include some family history information here. Most doctors don’t see whole families any more, and even if they do, they don’t see you all at once. If there are related issues for other family members, definitely include them here. If there are seemingly unrelated health issues going on you may want to include those as well, since your doctor may see a connection you have missed. If you take any medications or have allergies you will want to list that here. Make sure you note the details of your special diet, too!
  5. Extras If you have symptoms that are worse at night or come and go, get some documentation of them. Videos of stiff joints, pictures of rashes, food/symptom journals… these kinds of things will give your doctor more information to go on.

Your Doctor Visit

If you want a prayer of having your report well-received, you must approach your visit with the right attitude. Even if you are frustrated with past experiences, it is important to start each visit with a respectful, friendly tone!

  • Greet the office staff and nurses in a friendly way.
  • Even though you have brought your own report, fill out the intake forms the office provides.
  • Tell the intake staff that you have brought a report with you for the doctor, so that you will remember to ask all your questions and relate all your symptoms. The nurse may want to look it over and give it to the doctor with your intake information.
  • When your doctor comes in, let him or her lead the discussion.
  • Use phrases like “I’d like your opinion on…” “I heard that these symptoms could mean… what do you think?”
  • If your doctor contradicts information that you have researched, respectfully ask for sources of that information so that you can look it up later. Remember to thank your doctor!
  • If your doctor refuses to order testing which you think is important, ask the reason. Are there risks involved? Is the test known to be unreliable? Is the test very expensive? Does the doctor think your symptoms don’t indicate that problem? If not, what else could it be?
  • Show your doctor you value his or her opinion be listening carefully and taking notes when he or she has something to say.
  • Take notes of what your doctor tells you on your copy of the report. Before your visit is over, take a moment to make sure that all of the concerns on your report were addressed and you know what the next steps are.
  • Remind your doctor to put the copy you provided into your chart.
  • Thank your doctor!

Get A Copy of Your Chart

You have a right to know what’s in your medical records. Get a copy of your full chart. The first time you do this you will probably need to wait a few days so they can get all the archived information ordered and copied. You may need to pay for printing as well. After that, always get a copy of lab results, and request a copy of your chart annually. Reviewing the information that is in your chart can open your eyes to patterns you and your doctor may not have noticed!

Your Doctor

Most doctors will appreciate the effort you have put into your health by preparing notes for your visit and staying on-topic. Others will write you off and refuse you testing. If your doctor is unwilling to listen to your concerns, or treats you with disrespect, you need a new doctor. If your doctor refuses you testing that you think is necessary, research the reasons your doctor cited and get a second opinion.

What are your tips for making the most of a doctor’s appointment?

This post is a part of Fresh Bites Friday on Real Food Whole Health and Frugal Days Sustainable Ways on Frugally Sustainable!

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4 comments to Making the Most of a Doctor Visit

  • I like to have every month copy of my doctor for my personnel use

  • Deborah

    I like this idea and will incorporate it into my family doc visits. But I wanted to share something I did that helped me.

    I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer 2 yeras ago. One of the first things we did was purchase a notebook (full size, so that regular notebook paper would fit) and from then on, we requested a copy of everything that happened related to my cancer. During this time, I saw literally a dozen different doctors. My head was spinning from all the info they threw at us. I brought my hubby for taking notes, but having something like what you suggested above might work as well. We kept his notes in this folder. At the end of each visit, I would request or reiterate my desire for copies of everything and when I next had an appointment, they often had my copies ready for me. I would wait at the hospital for copies of test results performed there. If I did my own research, I kept short summaries in there. We used tabs to keep it organized.

    What this did for ME was create a single source for what a dozen different professionals were telling me. I had CD copies of bone scans, MRIs, as well as paper copies of biopsies, blood tests, etc and I had the doctor’s transcribed notes of his/her interpretation of the test.

    I can imagine any new diagnosis would benefit from this type of organizational system.

    • Thank you for your excellent suggestions, Deborah. What a great resource you created for yourself! I’m sure others will benefit because you shared. I hope you have been experiencing a good recovery.

  • Ann Hibbard

    This type of keeping medical records on oneself could revolutionize medicine in this country. Half of all the problems are caused by people failing to take charge of their own medical care and just expecting “the doctor” to do it all with a magic bullet or something. There should be an automatic stop between diagnosis and treatment. That the same person diagnoses and treats is a financially devastating conflict of interest.

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