Have you ever walked out of a doctor’s appointment feeling rushed, unheard and uncertain of your plan of care or forgot to ask questions about new medications? You are not alone.
The way the system is set up now, practitioners are only allowed 15 minutes with each patient to go over an assessment, health history and to make a plan for your health. On top of this, most people see more than one doctor (a general physician, a cardiologist, a neurologist, etc.). Trying to keep all of the information between doctors straight and make sure you are on the same page can be overwhelming and leave most people feeling like they are either missing some important piece of information, or are just along for the ride with what their doctor’s recommendation without a real say in their own health care decision making. There are some steps that you can take to make sure you get the most out of each doctor’s appointment, make sure everything is addressed and make sure your whole medical team (including you) is on the same page.
#1 CONDUCT A "SELF ASSESSMENT"
Start by doing a "self assessment." This assessment can start far ahead of your doctor’s appointment. Start with a head to toe assessment of yourself. Notice any aches, pains, fatigue, changes or problems. Notice your stomach, skin, joints etc. Notice your diet, sleep patterns, and stress levels. Finally notice any changes over time. Do you sometimes feel fine and other times have back issues? Write all of this down to keep it organized. When something new pops up, write it down.
In the week leading up to your doctor's appointment try to organize all of the information you have gathered into clear information for your practitioner. Separate the information into what issues you would like to tell your doctor about, and what questions you would like to ask for clarity around your concerns.
#2 MAKE A LIST OF ALL YOUR MEDICATIONS
Gather a list of all of the medications you are taking and write down why you think you are talking them. Poly pharmacy (lots of medications that interact with each other causing unnecessary harm) is a huge problem especially for people with multiple health issues. Sometimes a doctor from one specialty can prescribe a medication that does not interact well with another medication you are on, or there may be a better medication option based on your other diagnosis. It is helpful to make sure your doctors are aware of all of the medications that you are on and that you know what each medication is for.
#3 BE PROACTIVE DURING THE OFFICE VISIT
I always recommend bringing your friend/significant other/Nurse Coach to be a second set of ears, eyes and voice to back you up. When you are at your appointment, remember, your doctor is there to help you. Those 15 minutes are yours, and your doctor should be focused on helping to understand where you are in with you health and what can be done to improve it. Make sure you are able to address all of the issues and questions that you have listed.
Use the "repeat back" method to make sure you understand the information and plan that the doctor has laid out. For example “What I heard Dr. X, is that your office is going to call my by Wednesday to schedule a lab appointment. Based on those results you will change my medication because I may not need such a high dose to manage my cholesterol any more.” This gives the doctor the opportunity to correct any information that you misheard or misunderstood and makes sure that you have the correct information to look back on after you leave the office.
#4 MAKE A PLAN AFTER THE APPOINTMENT
Now is a good time to reflect and make a plan of your own. It can be startling and stressful to get new health news, or hear that your plan of care needs to change. Take some time to think about how that feels and what it all means for you. Again, use a partner to talk through your feeling and process what happened at your doctors appointment.
Then, make a plan to move forward. How are you going to incorporate the information you got from the doctor into your life moving forward? Do you need lifestyle changes, do you need to try a new medication, are there more tests to figure out what is wrong? Take this time to process and make a plan for yourself. Finally, don’t forget to bring this new information to your next doctor’s appointments so that everyone can be part of the same plan.
#5 HAVE A PARTNER AND ADVOCATE
It is absolutely essential to have a partner outside of your doctor's office who you can talk about everything with - someone you can share your symptoms, changes in your body, concerns and improvements with. This can be a friend or significant other, but I recommend someone with a medical background, who knows the right questions to ask and can can solely be an advocate for you with no outside biases. Nurse Coaches are specially trained to listen to and support their patients specific needs. I'd be happy to explore if I may be a fit for your current medication situation. Reach out today for a complimentary consultation.