How did you feel when you walked out of your last doctor’s visit?
Did you have a sense of confident understanding of the precise state of your health, with great clarity on your pathway forward to a healthier tomorrow?
Or did one of these thoughts creep across your mind?
-“If only I didn’t feel so rushed during our time, I could think more clearly.”
-“Oh no! I forgot to mention the most important part!”
-“Now I’m totally confused. I don’t think I understood a word he said.”
If one of these questions troubled you, or clouds of doubt and confusion floated through your mind before the hand sanitizer was even dry, don’t worry. You are not alone.
There is hope. Hope for a clear, confident, and rewarding visit with your doctor. One where both you and your doctor leave with a sense of teamwork and alignment in the direction you are taking with the care of your health.
After 20 years of practice, I’ve observed twelve strategies that set apart those who are actively engaged in the care of their health, from people who are merely bystanders on a congested highway of healthcare.
And what a difference these strategies can make, not only for an office visit, but also for a lifetime of understanding and good health related decisions.
And I would like to share those twelve strategies with you.
If you will follow these strategies as you prepare for your next appointment, they will guide you into the best mindset possible to take an active role in ensuring your best doctor visit ever.
Strategy #1: Be an Active Participant in your Healthcare
The person with the most vested interest in your health…is YOU! To have the best health possible, you want to make the best health decisions possible. To make the best decisions, you must to have the best understanding possible. To have the best understanding, you must know the facts. Prepare. Read. Monitor. Discuss.
Think of your doctor as your optimal health coach. Use them as such…and then be engaged with decisions that influence the care of your health. Know your goals. Understand your options. Remain organized in your medical history and medications. You may have a great healthcare team…just make sure you are on it.
Strategy #2: Be On Time
It seems elementary, but timeliness is a necessary courtesy not only for your doctor, but also for the remainder of the patients with appointments that day. A 5 or 10-minute late arrival can send a ripple effect throughout the day, pushing things further and further behind. Add to that unexpected crises, complicated medical issues, and a barrage of interruptions—and the stereotypical time in the waiting room stretches on.
Emergencies happen. We know that. No problem, as long as the late arrivals are the exception, not the rule. Bring a book or a well-charged smartphone, and arrive a few minutes early. Who knows? The person scheduled just before you may be late and you may get squeezed in a little early!
Strategy #3: Rank your Priorities
It may be challenging to schedule timely visits with your doctor, and you may have several pressing concerns to address while you are there. However, it is not reasonable to think you can cover all 7 items on your list in one visit and leave your doctor enough time to focus on and evaluate each one thoroughly.
To help you stay on track and guide your focus, make yourself a list of your primary concerns and then whittle it down to 2 or 3 top issues. Keep the list in your hand (it’s for you, not your doctor), mention them to your doctor very briefly at the outset of your visit, and then move on to Tip #4!
Strategy #4: Lead off with Your Biggest Concern
Put your biggest concern on the table—first.
I vividly recall one patient who laid out 3 different concerns at the beginning of our visit, and wanted advice and direction on each. No problem, it seemed, as I gathered the needed details of each problem, confirmed my suspicion during the examination, and then proceeded with guidance on each. In fact, I spent a few extra minutes past our allotted time to make sure he was fully informed and on board with the plan to address these relatively minor issues.
And then it happened.
While I was moving toward the door, he energetically offered, “Great! Now that we have those out of the way, the real reason I’m here, doctor, is because I am worried about the blood I’ve been having in my stool.”
I wish he had been up front with his main concern. The other issues were minor and could easily have been postponed to address the potentially life threatening issue he had saved for last.
Lead off your visit with your primary concern first. Leave the “Oh, by the way…” concerns for any remaining time at the end, or a future visit if needed. If you’re uncertain, it is always appropriate to ask if your doctor is able to address an additional minor concern, or if you will need to schedule a separate visit to do so. You may be surprised at the answer the gracious question elicits.
Strategy #5: Give the Punch Line First
When you relate your issue to the staff and your doctor, start with the punch line.
What is your main concern? Doctors are trained to focus on the chief complaint, so to make the most of your time, let the cat out of the bag at the very beginning.
Share your biggest concern, and then tell a brief story of the details. It may help to tell the story in terms of these questions:
-What is your primary concern?
-When did it start, and how often has it been occurring?
-How frequently and with what severity does it occur?
-What makes it worse?
-What gives you a bit of relief?
-What have you tried on your own that may/may not have helped?
Though your story may have important details, resist the temptation to give every chronological nuance of your story. Work backwards. Relate your symptoms, not a diagnosis. Pinpoint your concern, and then focus your story to give the details.
Strategy #6: Be Honest
You cannot embarrass us. Really. We’ve heard it all. Be honest. If you think it may be related to your concern and situation, toss it out there. We’ll let you know if we think you can overlook it.
In similar fashion, if you are not doing something that has been prescribed or recommended, we need to know that as well. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt our feelings. Your doctor needs to accurately know the situation in order to best advise you.
If you find you are routinely choosing a path divergent from your doctor’s recommendation, pause and ask yourself why. Could you be taking too much control? Do you feel like you have a grasp on why the doctor made his recommendation? Is it time to find a different doctor with whom you are more engaged?
Strategy #7: Renew Your Medications During the Visit
If you take prescription medication regularly, take a minute and check your refill status before your office visit. Ideally, you will renew your prescriptions during your visit to the office.
Renewing your prescriptions while still at the office will not only prevent confusion due to medication or dose changes, but will be a win-win situation for:
–Your doctor and their staff –who will be pleased to meet your needs, and avoid having to take time from someone else in the future to process your refills at later date;
–You—who will appreciate the efficiency, and not have to worry about running out over the weekend when you realize that you are out of refills.
Strategy #8: Document Your Medication and Medical History
Being organized about the care of your health can be lifesaving. Literally.
I strongly advise patients to have a written list of their medications, and to carry it with them. Make the effort to keep it up to date with any changes in dosage or medications, and present it each time you are at the office or hospital.
Same goes for significant medical problems or surgeries. No need to record each upper respiratory or bladder infection, but we really want to know if you’ve had your mitral valve replaced and are now on anticoagulants.
Not only will this save precious time, but it can avoid confusion or mistakes in keeping everyone up to date on what you are taking, or what you shouldn’t be.
Strategy #9: Do Your Homework
Yes, we know you’ve already consulted Dr. Google.
And no, it doesn’t bother us. But please leave the 200 pages of printed articles at home. We may smile when you hand them to us, but honestly… we won’t read them.
Really, we are glad that you are taking the effort into researching your concerns, and with information readily accessible online it makes sense to dig into details. It may help you recognize other symptoms or tidbits of history you hadn’t thought of.
Once you’ve done your research, summarize it succinctly for yourself and then let us know what you’ve learned. Because no matter how much time you spend digging, there will always be one piece of the puzzle you will need to get from us.
So dig in. Study up. Share your findings, concerns and questions. We will be delighted that you are taking an active role in your health.
Strategy #10: Get Your Labs Before Your Visit
This may vary a bit from doctor to doctor, but after 20 years of practice I’m convinced that having your labs drawn and results available before your scheduled office visit is the way to go.
I’ve observed that patients who obtain their lab work prior to their routinely scheduled visit experience the greatest satisfaction and understanding of their progress and state of health.
Having the results in hand while you are discussing your findings with your doctor makes great sense. And it allows for clarification of the significance of any abnormalities, and discussion of future goals in the metrics being followed.
It might take a bit of extra effort, but ask your doctor if they would be willing to order your lab work before you next meet. Whether you are planning your next health maintenance physical, or even if you have a visit in a few weeks—leave a message requesting the advance order. You’ll be glad you did.
Strategy #11: Know Your Numbers:
Nothing says that you are highly engaged in the care of your health more than knowing your numbers.
Regardless of whether you are monitoring targets for reducing your risk of disease, or are following key indicators of established medical problems—knowing your metrics will empower you for your journey.
In addition to specific monitoring of any medical problems, some important metrics to know and monitor may include your:
-Fasting blood sugar
-LDL (bad cholesterol)
-HDL (“healthy” cholesterol)
-Date of your last mammogram and/or colon cancer screening
Talk with your doctor about what she feels is most important to monitor, and then make sure you track it as well. Ask for a copy of the results, and maybe even create your own graph to track your results over time. The visual will be a helpful highlight of your progress in a glance.
Strategy #12: Review Your Visit
Things can move quickly during an office visit, and it’s not unusual to wonder about the specific content or question the clarity of your understanding later on.
To help ensure you not only receive the guidance you need, but can recall it later, a few simple strategies may help:
–Bring a trusted friend or loved one to listen in and confirm your understanding
–Take brief notes to review later
–Discuss your visit with your spouse or family member
Taking the time to read your notes and discuss your results (to the extent you are comfortable doing so) will help cognitively reinforce what you’ve learned and experienced during your visit.
Then be sure you’ve calendared your next visit, and have the order for any needed lab tests ahead of time.
Within all of these strategies lies the bottom line: The more time and effort you invest in the care of your health, the better the health reward you will reap.
As you review each of these strategies, which one can you implement before your next visit with your doctor? Be sure to leave your Comments below!