5 Ways to Prepare for the Next Doctor’s Appointment
Every patient knows that managing your medical care can be a full-time job. Insurance barriers to access, such as step therapy and prior authorizations, make it difficult just to get an appointment with the right doctor, let alone the care you need when you need it.
With increased pressure to cut-costs, medical providers are spending less and less time with patients. A 2016 Medscape survey of more than 19,200 doctors in 26 specialties found that doctors most often spend just 13-16 minutes with each patient. You’ll spend more time waiting on hold booking the appointment.
Providers are rushed to the point that some are questioning whether visits, such as the annual physical, should be eliminated. “From a health perspective, the annual physical exam is basically worthless,” opined Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania.
All of these factors make it difficult for patients to make the most of a doctor’s appointment. The goal of every appointment with a medical provider should be to get access to the right treatment at the right time. That’s easier said than done. To help patients achieve that goal, we’ve prepared a helpful guide, “What Every Patient Should Know Before the Next Doctor’s Appointment.”
1. Purpose: Identify the goal of your visit.
Remember: your doctor works for you.
To keep that objective in focus, Joyce I., a patient living with hypoparathyroidism, suggests writing down your goal for each appointment before you meet with your medical provider. When the medical provider enters the room, start the doctor’s appointment by sharing your purpose.
Your doctor is the expert in medicine that you are relying on and can guide you on the path to wellness. It’s critical that this relationship involves two-way communication built on trust.
2. Prepare: Write down your questions before the appointment.
“Make a written (or printed) list of anything you need to talk to your doctor about,” suggests Lue English, who has spent two decades managing private practice offices. “Be sure to leave space to write down any answers and advice you get.”
Writing down your questions in advance helps you remember every symptom, question and concern. Have you driven home from your doctor’s appointment and found yourself questioning, “How many days did he say I should wait before resuming my other medications?” A “make-your-own” question and answer sheet will help you remember key instructions.
3. Bring important documents, a list of current medications and relevant medical records.
“Successful planning begins at home,” nephrologist Dr. Michael Aaronson advises patients at KevinMd.com. “Bring important records with you which should include your recent laboratory test results, a current list of your present and past diagnoses, and a current medication list based on the medicines you are presently taking and how often you take your pills. Every piece of information is a clue to making a diagnosis.”
Proper planning includes:
- An exhaustive list of EVERYTHING you are taking including the dosage, times per day and time-of-day, and reason for use
- Any new health reports or medical diagnoses
- Any updates to your insurance plan
4. Know your health background and family medical history.
Every patient should remind themselves of their health background and any relevant family medical histories. Your family medical history can help your doctor avoid ineffective treatments and speed up the process for getting you the right treatment, right away.
For example, Joanne Smith, a patient with high cholesterol, knew that statins were ineffective and caused painful side effects for both her father and sister. By sharing that information with her doctor, she was able to help her provider narrow down the right treatment — a PCSK9 inhibitor.
5. Advocate: Bring your advocacy “A” game, or another person to fight for your care.
Doctor’s visits are stressful. And when we’re stressed, our brains don’t remember and process information as well as they should.
If your condition or illness affects your ability to advocate for yourself, consider bringing another person along to your appointment. A partner isn’t just good for a ride, they can provide moral support and help keep you and your doctor stay focused on your most important points.
Michele R., a rare disease patient swears by it; “I always take someone with me to make sure we both hear what is being said.”
Your advocate can be your spouse, family members, local advocate, your caregiver, your sister. Anyone who can help you make the most of your doctor’s appointment and help you get the right diagnosis, right treatment, right away.
Jim Sliney, Jr. is a freelance writer/editor and a student at Columbia University where he studies Creative Writing. He is a Registered Medical Assistant and writes educational and advocacy articles for patients with rare and under-served diseases. Connect with Jim on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.