Getting The Most From YOUR Doctor's Appointment

Background

Whether it's a routine checkup or an attempt to diagnose or treat a particular complaint, an appointment with a doctor may be stressful, and it may be difficult to achieve a satisfactory result.

Doctors have specialized knowledge about certain ailments and body systems. However, you are the foremost expert when it comes to your own body and you are the one who lives with the consequences of medical treatment. Best results for you can be achieved by working with the doctor while making sure you have full input and knowledge.

Hurried appointment schedules, barriers presented by technical language, and many other factors can make it more challenging to achieve a positive outcome from your appointment with a doctor.

Fortunately, there are specific steps, approaches, and attitudes you may adopt to increase the chances of a positive outcome from your doctor's appointment. The suggestions below are designed to improve the outcome of medical visits by making it more likely that the doctor's expertise becomes combined with the patient's wisdom and knowledge of his or her own body.

General Points

  1. Before the appointment
    • Make a list of your complaint(s), symptoms, and other observations that may be relevant. Be as specific as possible.
    • Discuss your problem with family and friends. It is especially helpful if the person has had a similar problem or has some medical expertise.
    • Find someone willing to accompany you to the appointment.
    • Research your complaint to the extent of your ability, paying attention to the credibility of the sources you find. Become familiar with potential causes of your complaint as well as their common treatments.
    • Make a list of questions.
  2. During the appointment
    • Bring one or more allies.
    • Let the doctor know that you want to understand everything that is happening and why. If you are unaccustomed to the routine or the doctor's vocabulary while he or she is explaining something, don't refrain from requesting them to clarify.
    • You, your ally, or both, take notes. Include what you say, what the doctor says, and what the doctor's examination consists of.
    • Assert yourself. You should be given the time needed both for stating your list of complaints and observations and having your list of questions answered.
    • Be open, honest, and clear. Beating around the bush or avoiding topics because of embarrassment reduces your chances of getting useful help.
    • Question treatments, especially those assigned without a diagnosis. See if the informed consent checklist (below) has been fulfilled.
    • Ask about lifestyle changes as alternatives to drugs or other medical intervention.
    • Consider beginning with the least invasive treatment options.
  3. Following the appointment
    • Complete and review your notes.
    • Call if you have unanswered questions.
    • Talk with friends and relatives about your situation.
    • Do more research, given any new information your doctor provided.
    • Consider second opinions if you feel uncomfortable about your session, if you have serious concern about your complaint(s), if you question the diagnosis, or if you are considering highly invasive treatment, such as surgery, given that there's time.
    • Follow your instincts. Lack of co-operation in the form of dismissal of your questions, negative attitude, or refusal to discuss alternatives are generally indications that you should seek help elsewhere.

Specialized Advice

If the doctor starts to perform a test, exam, or procedure:

  • Ask, "What are you doing now?"
  • If you experience discomfort or pain, tell your doctor, and remember your options to ask for more explanation, or to call a stop to the procedure.

If you are offered a drug sample

  • It's important to ask for basic information that would come with a prescription:
    • What is the name of the medication?
    • Is this the brand name or the generic name?
    • What does it do?
    • How do I take it? (i.e., with meals, on an empty stomach)
    • When do I take it? (morning, evening, etc.)
    • For how long should I take it?
    • What foods, drinks, other medications/vitamins/herbs/dietary supplements or activities should I avoid while taking this medication?
    • If this is brand, may I start with this sample and then buy the generic?
  • Ask how new the medication is. Is it approved for this treatment?
  • You may also want to ask if the doctor was given the sample for promotional purposes.

If you are offered a prescription

  • Remind the doctor of any other medicines, herbs, vitamins, other dietary supplements you take, and all of your allergies.
  • Ask:
    • How long has this medicine been in use?
    • How many patients do you have on it?
    • What have their side effects been?
    • What are other possible side effects and which ones are most common?
    • What do I do if I experience a side effect?
    • What do I do if I forget to take my medication?
    • Is it safe to be or become pregnant on this medication?

If you are considering an invasive procedure, such as surgery

  • Ask to know all your treatment alternatives.
  • Ask about the risks of no treatment.
  • Ask to speak to people who have had your complaint.
  • Ask to speak with people who have received the treatment you're considering.
  • Ask to speak with people who have chosen other treatments (or no treatment).
  • Talk with your friends and relatives about your situation.
  • Do more research, given any new information that your doctor has provided.
  • Consider multiple opinions.

Additional considerations:

  • Doctors may be influenced by a number of factors not related to your health, such as drug marketing, institutional policies, their knowledge, and their personal preference.
  • You may be influenced by factors not necessarily related to your doctor's usefulness to you, such as their attitude and appearance, and your reluctance to challenge authority.

Informed Consent Checklist:

  • Diagnosis
  • Nature and purpose of proposed procedure
  • Risks, benefits, indications, and contra-indications of proposed procedure
  • Alternatives, including no intervention
  • Risks and benefits of the alternatives
  • Risks and benefits of not undergoing a procedure
  • Adequate opportunity for questions
  • Non-coercive, minimally-stressful environment (as permitted by the medical concern)
Published Monday, December 14, 2009 - 17:56; Last updated Sunday, January 24, 2010 - 08:53