—Dr. Paul Haidet
I love today’s quote. The doctor is an expert on the medical information she has studied. You are an expert on your own health, personal circumstances, and any additional information you have learned about your health condition. To get all you can out of your appointments, step into your expert status. Run your health-care appointments like the health-care provider is a highly paid, expert consultant, and you are her client. You are paying her to advise you on how to care for yourself, but ultimately the final decision, the responsibility to follow through, and the task of living with the outcome falls on you. You are in charge. So, how do you run a productive meeting?
When you make your appointment, be clear with the office staff about your purpose for the appointment and what information you want. Doctors make appointments of varied lengths, depending on the patient’s needs. If you want a forty-five-minute conversation, as opposed to a fifteen-minute check-in, make sure that’s what you are scheduled for. It is considerate of the physician’s time and helps ensure you get your questions answered.
You will have more productive conversations when you have all of your medical information at your fingertips and health-care providers will take you more seriously when you are well-prepared. Here is a checklist of items that it’s wise to bring to every significant health-care appointment in a notebook or file box:
- Progress charts of your symptoms, if you keep them.
- A copy of all relevant lab results and blood work for you to reference.
- A copy of all relevant lab results and blood work ordered by other providers to give to the health-care provider.
- A well-organized list of questions for you to ask, with an extra copy for your buddy. (See below.)
- A short, written description of your medical history and current health condition.
- A list of all your medications and supplements, with dosages and length of time you have been on them.
Bring a Buddy
I cannot overstate the value of having someone join you at any significant health-care appointment. As Dr. Marie Savard (a national leader on patient advocacy) puts it, “There’s nothing like having a friend or relative lending support, encouraging you to tell the whole story and helping you make sense of what the doctor says. . . I have found that the fear of medical findings can reduce even the most powerful, assertive person to saying, ‘Yes, doctor,’ and ‘Thank you, doctor,’ instead of asking important questions.”19 Your buddy can help you remember all your questions and make sense of the answers afterwards.
Plan Your Questions
Set aside time before any significant health-care appointment to clarify your goals for the appointment and develop a list of questions. It is important to know exactly what you want to learn in advance of the appointment. Some basic questions include: What are the risks of this treatment? What is your success rate? What does success look like? What are my other options and what are their pros and cons? Why is this your diagnosis? Is there any way that my case does not fit this diagnosis? What are other possible explanations for my symptoms? Can I speak to others who have gone through this treatment about their experience? Remember, for big decisions, it’s always a good idea to get more than one opinion.
One important role that an appointment buddy can play is note-taker. You can focus on listening and asking questions and she can record the whole conversation for you. If you don’t have an appointment buddy, make sure that you jot down key points as you listen. Statistics show that we forget as much as eighty percent of what we hear in conversations. If it’s important, write it down.
Get Your Questions Answered
In today’s health-care system, most providers are overworked and have crammed schedules. Your time with them is limited. Make it count. Share your key questions with them immediately to make sure that they are addressed. If you sense that the appointment is ending without addressing your concerns, interrupt with, “Excuse me. I know time is running short and I want to make sure I get your opinion on this.” If you want clarification on something, say something like, “I still don’t understand. I want to make sure I get this right.” If the appointment ends and you still have unanswered questions, ask how you might get those questions addressed.
Confirm Next Steps
Before the appointment ends, review and write down next steps for both you and the provider. That may sound like, “So, I am going to pick up my prescriptions and make appointments with the cardiologist, with the Heart Healthy program, and with you for three months from now. Your office is going to call me in a week with the test results and any other recommendations. Is there anything else?”
Set aside time after a major appointment to organize your notes; write down follow-up questions; make copies and file new lab results; and schedule any follow-up tasks like researching a new diet, joining a program, or making appointments.
»» For Today ««
What are some questions you would like to ask a health-care provider at your next appointment? Start a list now so that when the time comes, you are already halfway there.
This is the 22nd in a series of excerpts from the first section, Take Charge, of my new book, Everyday Healing. To start your journey on Day 1 and read the whole book: Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge and Get Your Health Back . . . One Day at a Time please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookstore to pick up your copy today.
As always, if you have any thoughts, feedback or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let’s talk!
To your health,