Tips on Preparing for an Appointment With Your Doctor

Remember the “good old days” when doctors like Marcus Welby could take lots of time after an exam to have a conversation? Well, that was before healthcare delivery got complicated and terms like “managed care, network providers and preexisting condition” weren’t part of everyone’s vocabulary. And remember, too, that Marcus Welby was an actor, not a real doctor.

As the shortage of internists and family doctors becomes more real, so too, does the time that they have to spend with each patient. The relationship you have with your doctor has never been more important. Working together, that relationship can be more effective and more pleasant. Here are some ways that you can make this happen.

You want to maximize the time you spend with your doctor. You need to understand what was discovered and discussed during your visit and leave with answers to all the questions you had, as well as know what you should do next. There are easy ways to make that happen.

To help you get the most out of your visit to your doctor and to help improve your doctor’s ability to treat you here are some easy tips to make your visit more enjoyable and more productive.
Tip 1:
If you’re experiencing symptoms, write down what is happening and what brings the symptoms on. This information will help the doctor understand what you’re dealing with. If you are experiencing pain, rank it in your diary on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the worst. If the symptoms or pain are made worse or relieved by medication, note that, too.
Tip 2:
Making an appointment can often be a challenge. Given how busy the doctor’s office may be, speaking with a receptionist or scheduler may involve more “hold time” than talk time. Here’s how you can make this easier.
• Know what you are going to say and then say it. Write a script to read if that helps.
• If the issue you are calling about is potentially embarrassing, keep it simple. Just tell the receptionist or scheduler why you are calling. Don’t worry, they’ve heard worse.
• Or you can get the FAX number and FAX the doctor a written explanation of what is concerning you. The response is usually a quick call from the nurse or physician’s assistant, and an appointment can be made quickly and easily. If the office will provide an E-Mail address, that will work, too. With either method, FAX or E-Mail you can send along notes, questions and even a copy of your diary, and you’re on your way to a productive and helpful appointment.
Tip 3:
Bring your list and diary and something to keep you busy in the waiting room. Waiting is a reality you and your doctor share. Good care takes time and you don’t want to be rushed, so allow other patients the same advantage. If you feel it would help, bring a family member or friend along with you. Another set of eyes and ears can always help, and chances are that your companion will be more detached than you are, especially if they understand they are there to help, not take over.
Tip 4:
Your doctor is here to help you and wants to provide a clear channel of communication that helps the doctor understand your issues. The clearer you can be, the more successfully your doctor will be able to treat you. To make that happen:
• Be honest about why you’re here. Don’t say what you think the doctor might like to hear.
• Be direct and to the point. Describe as clearly as possible what’s happening and how you feel.
• Ask questions about anything that concerns you. Make sure you understand the answers. If you don’t understand, ask.
• Make your concerns clear. Clarity between you and your doctor is the key to effective treatment. Say what you mean and understand what your doctor says to you.
• Take notes or make a recording. Ask your doctor to repeat or clarify what’s been said so that you are sure to understand clearly all that has gone on. Use whatever works for you. Always ask the doctor if it would be okay to use a tape recorder or even a cell phone with a recording capability. Some patients have memory issues and require more time to register what is being said. Unless the doctor is aware of this situation, the doctor may keep moving on while the patient lags behind. If this happens, speak up and ask the doctor to slow down.
• Get written copies of advice and instructions. Brochures, flyers, information sheets, suggested reading, Internet links and support groups all have important information that can help you understand your condition…so ask about them.

Tip 5:
Once you’ve completed your visit to your doctor, plan the follow-up as carefully as you prepared for the visit. Your good health is a “team effort” and you’re the most important player.
• Get your prescriptions, if there are any, and begin to take them according to instructions.
• Make any lifestyle adjustments that have been recommended. You’ll experience changes that will be beneficial, but you have to make the changes.
• Keep any follow-up appointments and make sure your primary doctor is informed of each.
• Follow up with your doctor and keep the clear lines of information flowing.
• If there’s some underlying issue that may affect when, where or how you are able to comply with the doctor’s recommendation, tell the doctor. Doctors are not mind readers, and the more they know, the more they can help.
Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Dennis Patouhas, owner of Comfort Keepers of Lower Fairfield County. He may be reached at 203-629-5029 or