Going to see the doctor can be a stressful experience. In ten to fifteen minutes you must explain your complaint, watch as your doctor examines you, then discuss the diagnosis and treatment plan. That’s a lot of information to absorb in a short period of time and it’s hardly surprising some patients leave their doctor’s office feeling bewildered.
The good news is that there are things that you can do to improve your experience at your doctor’s office, and these simple strategies can make a marked change in how you perceive the visit as well as your overall health outcomes. In this article we’ll discuss five such techniques for getting past the things you are probably doing wrong at your doctor’s appointment.
Studies have shown that patients cannot recall upwards of 40% of medical information that their doctor provided during a consultation. Yet, many patients don’t bring paper or pen nor do they ask their doctor to write down the details of their specific treatment plan. The generic treatment handout is hardly a substitute for the detailed information the doctor provides during the visit.
It’s important to write the details down because medical errors are a fact of life. Did the Doctor say 10mg of that medicine or 15mg? Are you sure that the dose sent to the pharmacy is in fact correct and not just a typo made by an overworked and stressed medical professional? Minor errors like these affect hundreds of thousands (ref) of Americans yearly, and are instantly and completely resolvable simply by writing things down and keeping your own records.
You may also be able to significantly affect the outcome of your disease or injury through the simple act of taking psychological control of your health and keeping a journal of what your doctor said and how you plan to implement his recommendations. It’s remarkable how powerful writing things down can be.
Pay attention to comments about lifestyle.
Doctors spend countless hours telling their patients to pay attention to their lifestyle, to lose weight, to eat right, to take their blood pressure and diabetes medications as prescribed. Many patients simply ignore these recommendations and go on with their lives.
If your doctor says you need to lose weight, you’d should ask how they recommend you do that rather than simply letting the comment pass. If they say 30 minutes of exercise each day, then make a joint plan to do that, as well as a follow-up appointment when you can come back in and measure progress. There’s a good chance that after listening to your question your doctor will be absolutely thrilled. After all, how many patients take the time to engage with their physician and actually do what they are told?
Don’t expect a pill at every visit.
Many patients expect a simple solution to their problems and nothing is simpler than popping a pill. In many cases medication may not be required to resolve your problem, and the risk of side effects may outweigh the benefits. Doctors know this only too well, but may feel pressured by their patients who expect a pill as the outcome of the visit.
Before you agree to take a medication ask the doctor about the side effects, and question if the net benefit of the medicines outweighs the risks. This simple candid question signals your willingness to not be one of “those people” who has to have pills when they are not needed and encourages your doctor to think of alternative therapies that could be used.
One truly saddening side effect of our pill culture is addiction, and the number one controlled substance prescribed in the USA is OxyContin. While it may seem like a good idea to get that script for a more powerful medicine just in case, or because your OTC medicine isn’t doing the job, avoid the temptation to use more powerful medicines unless they are absolutely required. Remember, addiction is a terrifying force that wrecks homes and lives, and it all starts with that first pill.
Keep asking questions!
Asking questions can be a highly effective way to turn a medical appointment into a productive time where both you and your doctor think of ways to better understand and treat your condition. Questions focus your thoughts at a time when your natural tendencies to be distracted can overwhelm you.
It’s always a good idea to come to the appointment with a list of questions written out and ready to go. I like to hand these to the doctor at the beginning of the appointment so they have a chance to really express their opinions on these points as we go, rather than waiting until the last five minutes.
Be informed before the appointment.
If you’re going to ask sensible questions during your appointment, you’ll probably need to do some research of your own before the appointment, particularly if it’s a follow up or a referral to a new doctor and you already have a preliminary diagnosis.
Researching medical conditions on the internet is a contentious issue as the amount of factual and accurate data out there is greatly outweighed by the mountains of “expert” opinions that can be found on almost very condition. It’s important to use well curated resources such as WebMD, MedLine, as well as the websites of the major hospitals in the US such as the Mayo and Cleveland Clinic.
The purpose of your research is not to challenge your doctor’s expertise by becoming an expert yourself. It’s very easy to read a few short summary pages and think you can make a good diagnosis, but your doctor has years of experience in both the literature and the clinic to draw on, and is certainly in a better spot to answer questions. You just need to be able to understand what’s being said so that you can make the best possible decisions in your own care, and research can help you do that.
Featured photo credit: flickr via flickr.com