How to Properly Prepare for and Participate In Medical Appointments

By | March 3, 2014

Going to see a doctor, for any health issue, can be stressful. For people who live with chronic pain, they often spend years of their lives doing the doctor dance; going from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, bloodwork to x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc., and then doing it all again. Going from one doctor to another, desperately seeking a cure, a fix, a solution, a way to manage the pain, can heighten the stress and often leave one in an emotional state not conducive to working with the medical professional to find, and understand, the next step. I, personally, have experienced many an appointment where I was so stressed, so anxious, so high strung, that I practically vibrated through the appointment, missing key words and phrases, misunderstanding what was being said because I had played the appointment out in my head numerous times before even setting foot in the office, and being too emotional to share my symptoms and experiences. I could have saved myself a lot of frustration had I been a better prepared participant in this dance. The following are tips on how to cut down the stress, frustration, fear, anxiety, and confusion that can accompany a medical appointment or the doctor dance.

Before your appointment it is vital to know exactly what you want to get out of the appointment. Make a list of what you want to discuss. List what questions you have. Be as concise as possible. Prioritize your list; what is the most important issue or question? You may not have time to address everything on your list, so be sure you know what is most important. Write a brief description of your symptoms and their frequency, as well as duration and if they have changed over time. Some people keep a journal of their symptoms. As you prepare for the appointment be ready to share this personal information with the medical professional. If you have found information online, which you wish to discuss during the appointment, bring copies of the information, and include links and website names.It is a good idea to bring a notebook and writing utensil, or device you can type on, so that you can take notes on what is being said, if anything doesn’t make sense, if there is something with which you need clarification, if there are words you need to look up, and a general summary of the appointment.

It is also wise to bring someone you trust to the appointment. Having an extra set of ears during an appointment can be vital to understanding what was discussed. Oftentimes people with chronic pain are emotional during appointments which can blur their ability to retain and remember what was said. Having support, encouragement, and company, by way of a trusted friend or family member, can ensure the appointment goes smoothly, and that the information is retained. It can also be useful as there are times when medical professionals act in an unethical or unprofessional manner, and having a witness to this can be beneficial.

Checklists can be a helpful tool for medical appointments. Examples of checklists include: medications and dosages (including supplements, vitamins, herbs, oils, etc.), diagnosis, allergies, specialists visited, tests done, surgeries, hospital visits, alternative therapies, herbal remedies, and anything else that may be pertinent. Include dates where you can.

Be aware that you have the right to request copies your medical records. This can assist in creating checklists, keeping records, and understanding what, and who, you have already tried and visited. If you are seeing a specialist, request that all copies of records be sent to your general physician.

During your visit, it is best to mention paperwork (such as disability forms, disability placard applications, etc.) and prescriptions towards the beginning of the appointment as these can be time consuming.

During the medical appointment, utilize your list but be flexible with its use. Questions, not previously thought of, can naturally arise during medical appointments, so don’t rigidly stick to your prepared list if other questions seem more important. If you are given new medications, ensure that you know how to take it, the frequency, whether there are food or drink restrictions, and how long you can be expected to use the medication. Don’t leave the appointment until you understand the next steps. It is useful to repeat what you have heard from your doctor to understand if your perception meets theirs, and if any clarification is necessary.

It took me six years of the doctor dance before I was given a diagnosis that fit. In the beginning, it took me several years before I realized that I had a responsibility, as a patient, to be prepared, to understand the purpose of the appointment, and to do my best to keep emotions in check as much as possible during appointments so we could discuss what was happening and what the next steps were. Being an active participant in this process helped to create more effective, less stressful, and more productive appointments. The process was not easy. It was often emotional. And it could be, in turns, frustrating, hopeful, confusing, maddening, stressful, and tiring, but the more prepared I was, the better I felt about my role as an active participant in the doctor dance, and in my search for a way to live with my chronic pain.