Making the Most of Your Doctor’s Appointment

It’s not just you feeling like your doctor’s appointment goes by too quickly. The amount of time doctors have to spend with patients is shrinking; on average, Americans only spend 18 minutes with their physician during an appointment. At the same time, the complexity of our personal health care needs continues to rise. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that nearly half of all adults — 117 million people — have at least one chronic condition.

(On average, Americans only spend 18 minutes with their physician. Only 3.5 minutes of that time is spent on the actual examination.)

Realizing this hard but realistic truth…

…that you may not be getting the quality time you deserve from your physician…

…is a hard pill to swallow.

However, understanding the situation is a key step to taking control of your personal healthcare. In this article, we will prepare you for the before, during and after of your next appointment to help make sure you get the most of your time with your physician.

Setting Honest Expectations About Your Doctor’s Appointment

Most doctor’s appointments will likely be a symptom-specific appointment for non-life-threatening acute care — something like a cold or injury. In these 15-20 minute appointments, you won’t be covering a year’s worth of health changes as you would in an annual visit, so keep in mind that you need to help drive the discussion in the right direction from the get-go. Your time with your doctor will begin ticking away the moment they step through the door.

[callout1]If you are due for your annual physical, you can expect to have between 30-60 minutes, closer to the latter if you are a new patient, which requires filling out additional paperwork and providing a thorough medical history.[/callout1]

Considering your time constraints, you need to be reasonable with what can be solved:

It’s unlikely that all of your health issues will be addressed in one appointment. Bombarding your doctor with questions and problems outside the primary purpose of your appointment is the quickest ways to get off track and lose valuable time.

length-of-visit-vs-intensity-of-care

What should you expect from your doctor?

  1. Respect. It should go without saying: your time and health are valuable, and your physician’s actions should demonstrate as much. You have rights as a patient. If you ever feel you are not receiving the care you deserve, then it is perfectly reasonable to discuss your concerns or seek quality care elsewhere.
  2. A comfortable environment for conversation and examination. You should feel safe and relaxed to have an open discussion and proceed with physical tests. If being uncomfortable is a personal response, let your doctor know so that they can make adjustments to their care to make you feel at ease.
    [callout1]You have a right to ask for translation services if you (or your doctor) don’t speak the same language. If your doctor is of the opposite sex, you have the right to ask for a same-sex nurse or physician’s aide to be in the room during a physical examination.[/callout1]
  3. Careful and non-judgmental listening. During the diagnosis phase, your input should be taken seriously. It should also be received in a professional manner absent of personal opinions meant to make you feel guilty or ashamed.
  4. Expert advice. You are paying for access to highly-qualified, licensed health practitioners.
  5. Balanced opinions. In almost all circumstances, there are multiple options for treatment. While data and scientific studies may drive a physician to recommend a particular course of treatment, you can expect to have a reasonable answer to the question, “What other options do I have?”

What should your doctor expect from you?

  1. Honesty in reporting your health conditions so that they can make an accurate diagnosis.
  2. Sharing relevant information about lifestyle and diet so that they can make personalized recommendations.
  3. Adherence to recommended treatment plans, whether taking medication as directed or making lifestyle improvements.
  4. Mutual respect. Patients should return the same respectful manner they receive from their doctors so that, together, a professional and effective conversation about your personal health can take place.
  5. To ask questions. Doctors, unfortunately, can’t read minds. They want to know what you’re thinking and if you understand what they’re telling you.
what-you-should-expect-from-your-dr
what-your-doctor-should-expect-from-you

Next, let’s look at how you can best prepare for, engage in and follow up on your next doctor’s appointment. Using these tips will help you take control of your personal healthcare. First, we’ll outline how to develop an effective game plan for your next visit.

Getting Ready for Your Doctor’s Appointment

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day…
Championships are won in the preseason…
Studying is how you ace the exam….

You’ve heard them all before. Success starts with good preparation. Your preparation for a doctor’s visit is the key to making sure you’re getting the most out of an appointment. It may feel like overkill but just think back to how many times you’ve forgotten to ask a question or missed explaining an important symptom you’ve been experiencing.

Don’t fall victim to rambling and lose your train of thought. Patients are typically interrupted after 18 seconds of explanation, so keep it short and sweet out of respect for your doctor’s time but also to make sure you’re saying all that needs to be said.

18-seconds

With the following tips to keep in mind, you’ll walk into your appointment feeling confident and ready to engage in productive dialogue.

Scheduling Your Appointment

Making the most of your doctor’s appointment starts long before you ever walk in the door. Scheduling the appropriate kind of appointment is the first step to ensuring a successful visit.

When you call the doctor’s office, clearly explain the reason for the visit to the receptionist or scheduler. Note that different types of appointments may require different preparation.

First Time Visits

  • Call your doctor’s office and your insurance provider to verify that your physician is in your insurance network and the type of care you intend to receive is covered.
  • When scheduling your appointment, ask what you should bring with you such as a list of medications.
  • Ask if you need to gather medical records or other documents from other providers you have visited in the past.

Annual Physicals

  • These appointments are often scheduled out weeks or even months in advance. You’ll be assigned a longer appointment time to have a thorough consultation and physician examination.
  • Ask about any tests you may need in advance, like blood work or x-rays, so that the office can prepare any necessary paperwork and ensure you have time to get the test results back before your appointment.

half-of-adults

Chronic Condition Management and Follow-up Visits

  • Follow up appointments are used to review test results and determine how home-care treatments (self-monitoring, lifestyle changes, et cetera) are working.
  • They are typically very brief; ask the scheduler how much time you’re allotted.
  • If you recently had a new diagnosis, be sure you understand the ins and outs of your condition. Ask more additional information and clarification if you need it.

1/2 of all adults (117 million) have at least one chronic condition – Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Symptom-specific Concerns

  • Whether you’ve hurt a knee playing basketball over the weekend or have a sore throat that’s just not going away, symptom-specific appointments help quickly diagnose your condition and determine what (if any) additional care is needed.
  • The goal of these appointments is the timely treatment of your condition(s). Often, you’ll see a physician assistant or another physician in the practice, not necessarily your primary care doctor.
  • When you speak to the scheduler, be sure to note how long you’ve had symptoms and any relevant medical history.

Acute/Urgent Care needs

  • If you are experiencing urgent care needs — a sudden fever spike or sharp, unexpected pains — during a normal work week, it’s best to call your primary care physician first. Let the scheduler know when your symptoms started and any relevant medical history.
  • For after-hours or weekend health needs, patients may be best served via a walk-in urgent care clinic. If that’s the case, a quick follow-up visit with your doctor during normal business hours is in order.

Track Your Health

There are several ways to keep track of your personal health information. Whether you choose an electronic file (like Google Sheets, Microsoft Word), a mobile phone app (like Evernote or MyChart) or a paper-based system, it’s important to have your medical history written down.

medical-portfolio

Compile Your Personal Medical Portfolio

Your personal medical portfolio has three key parts: personal and family history, current medications and a symptoms chart.

1. Gather as much of your personal and family medical history as possible. This history includes any major illnesses, surgeries, and current health conditions. If possible, include medical histories from both your mother and father’s sides of the family, even conditions your children have. Providing your current and future physicians with this information is extremely important in identifying possible health risks and opens up opportunities for increased observation and screening.

[callout1]Patients will need to balance the pros and cons of receiving all their care within a particular health system. Typically, this provides a seamless medical record between your primary care doctor, any tests/lab work and specialists. However, not all areas offer a full breadth of specialties. If that’s the case for you, then having a thoroughly documented medical history will be an asset to you and your care providers.[/callout1]

2. List all the medications you are taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements, how long you’ve been taking them and dosage amounts. You can even bring in your medications to the appointment if you want to be extra thorough.

[callout1]If you’re not sure why you’re taking a certain medication, ask your physician![/callout1]

3. Start a symptoms diary to track side effects and problems you experience. Just as a dream journal helps you remember what happens while you sleep, your symptoms diary helps build an accurate record of your symptoms and their magnitude.

Amazing Tip  AMAZING TIP Track the following in your diary:

  • Start/end dates of symptoms
  • How symptom(s) has evolved or changed
  • How symptom(s) impacts you or what activities flare it
  • Rating on a scale what the symptom(s) is (for example: on a scale of 1-10, how strong was your pain?)
  • Whether or not you took medication to manage the symptom(s)
  • If the symptom(s) improved after medication or other intervention

Prioritize Which Health Issues to Cover with Your Physician

After you have compiled your medical portfolio, you can prepare for your visit by asking yourself the following 10 Key Questions. Record your answers, then prioritize what you would like to talk about with your physician and bring them with you. You can even put them in your purse or wallet, or on your phone.

  1. What health problems are you currently experiencing?
  2. Do you need to receive or change any medicines you’re taking?
  3. Would you like to learn more about any diagnostic tests?
  4. Are there treatment options or surgery that you would like to discuss?
  5. Have you made any recent emergency room visits?
  6. Have you had changes in weight, diet, appetite, energy level, exercise time, mental state or sleep habits?
  7. Did you experience any major life changes like work, family, deaths?
  8. Have you experienced anything traumatic like an act of violence?
  9. Have you been out of the country or are planning on doing so?
  10. Have your started any new activities or sports?

When you have put together your “script” for your appointment, practice. Practicing may seem silly at first, but being able to describe your symptoms and situation is extremely important for the doctor. Don’t let chance decide what words you use at your appointment. Be intentional. Practicing will also make you more efficient and able to fit in more discussion or cover additional topics.

Additionally, consider finding a friend or family member that you feel comfortable with to accompany you to your appointment. A second set of “eyes and ears” is a great idea to help you remember everything to talk about, to take notes and to ask additional questions, or just provide extra emotional support.

Amazing Healthcare makes it easy to take control of your personal healthcare.

Download our FREE Personal Medical Workbook to track personal and family medical information, log symptoms, appointment priorities, take notes and identify follow-up questions.

Click here to make the most of your next doctor’s appointment!

Looking to store your healthcare information online? Amazing Healthcare Consultants has an exclusive offer for our readers. Store your information online and access it on the go with CareSync. Use promo code AMAZING16 for 10% off of any CareSync plan. Offer expires 12/31/16

AHC Bonus Download Cover

During Your Appointment

With the correct preparation, your visit should be primarily focused on getting answers and solutions to your top-priority concerns.

Remember, you doctor relies on you to provide an accurate description of your symptoms. In most cases, they aren’t able to pre-read detailed daily reports or other health information. Conveying all that you want to is your responsibility.

Arriving at Your Doctor’s Office

dr-waiting-area-arrive-early
  1. Arrive 15-30 minutes early for every appointment. Planning to arrive early will also provide a buffer for traffic, parking and finding the correct office suite. Doing so will give you plenty of time to check in.
    • Amazing Tip  AMAZING TIP For a first-time visit, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early. You will need to fill out paperwork, and you don’t want it to cut into your time with the doctor. Late-arriving patients can make a bad impression and mess up the doctor’s already-tight appointment schedule.
  2. Bring your insurance card, payment method, and any documents or medications that the receptionist requested you have with you.
  3. Bring relevant printouts of research as well as the “script” you’ve created to lead the discussion with your physician.

Make the Most of Your Exam Room Time

  1. BE HONEST. This is your doctor, not the police or your parents. Do not lie or exclude information. They are there to keep you healthy or make you healthy again, not judge you. Guilt or shame should not hold you back. It may be difficult to overcome these feelings, which is why you need to view your physician as your teammate helping you attack a problem together.
  2. Take notes, and ask questions to get clarification if something is confusing.
  3. Start with the most important topic first. Many people wait until the end to mention their biggest concern.
  4. If your doctor suggests a treatment, test or surgery that you were unprepared for, and it is not something you can easily research on your own at home, use the following questions to quickly find out more:
    • What are the expected outcomes?
    • How long is the process and what does it involve?
    • Does my insurance cover it, and if not, how much does it cost?
    • What side effects can I expect?
    • Describe how the procedure is performed.
    • What are the benefits?
    • Are there any alternatives?
    • How soon should something be scheduled?
    • When will you find out results?

After Your Doctor’s Visit

Now the appointment is over, your doctor is not going to be there to hold your hand and make sure you follow their recommended treatment plan, take your medications or implement lifestyle changes. If you feel you will be unable to follow a plan consistently, recruit a friend or family member to keep you honest and remind you to do so.

Your Immediate To-Dos

  • File away copies of your notes and any paperwork the office has given you. If you didn’t receive copies of documents you filled out at the office, make a quick call or email requesting copies for your own personal records.
  • Date and review your notes to make sure you completely understand the information and care plan. Then log the information in your medical portfolio so that the file is quickly and easily accessible for future reference.

Following Through On Your Doctor’s Visit

fill-your-prescriptions

Fill your prescriptions

healthy-lifestyle-changes

Make lifestyle changes

symptoms-diary

Keep symptoms diary

  • Fill your prescription and take your medication(s) as recommended. Use a calendar, checklist or phone reminders to make sure you don’t miss a dose, and plan out ahead for when you need a refill or need a new prescription so that you aren’t panicking last minute.
    [callout1]Many pharmacies have automated refill programs so you never run out of your medications. Ask your local pharmacist for more information.[/callout1]
  • Make the necessary lifestyle changes to your diet and exercise as recommended by your physician.
  • Continue to keep your symptoms diary and track your new results to help your doctor determine the effectiveness of the solution as well as prevent yourself from forgetting your progress details.

What To Do When You Have Questions After Your Appointment

Don’t be afraid to call your doctor’s office when you have questions or concerns about your treatment or if new symptoms arise, especially if they are urgent. Use the following list as a guide for when an appropriate time to call your doctor has come up:

  • You have side effects from medicines or treatments
  • You have new, unexplained symptoms
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • You receive new prescriptions from another health care provider
  • You want the results of a test
  • You have questions or concerns.

Amazing Tip  AMAZING TIP
Be understanding when the office says someone will need to get back to you. Non-acute or urgent questions may require 1-3 days for a response. It’s important to remember that many medical professionals chose their career because of a love of helping patients. The time lag in responding may be due to emergency patient cases, general overscheduling, even time off!

[callout1]For any urgent or life-threatening symptoms, call 911 immediately.[/callout1]

Productive and Positive Doctor’s Appointments

By following these tips for before, during and after your doctor’s visit — as well as the expectations you should have regarding it — you will be well on your way to taking control of your personal healthcare journey. If still unsatisfied with the care you are receiving after implementing this help, it is in your hands to find a professional medical relationship that is right for you and your situation. If you desire help in this search, consider the professionals at Amazing Healthcare Consultants. You can reach us at info@amazinghcc.com or 888-568-0011.

Amazing Healthcare makes it easy to take control of your personal healthcare.

Download our FREE Personal Medical Workbook to track personal and family medical information, log symptoms, appointment priorities, take notes and identify follow-up questions.

Click here to make the most of your next doctor’s appointment!

Looking to store your healthcare information online? Amazing Healthcare Consultants has an exclusive offer for our readers. Store your information online and access it on the go with CareSync. Use promo code AMAZING16 for 10% off of any CareSync plan. Offer expires 12/31/16

AHC Bonus Download Cover

About Amazing Healthcare Consultants

Founded in 2011 by Dr. Carol DeVore and Rachel Decena, Amazing Healthcare Consultants provides clear sightlines into your loved one’s healthcare through personal patient advocacy and insurance advocacy. Making confident and educated healthcare decisions is the ultimate peace of mind, and as an independent agency, Amazing Healthcare Consultants can truly put the patient first and fight for the best care possible.

To learn more about Amazing Healthcare Consultants or to schedule a free consultation, request a call from us.

FREE Personal Medical Workbook

 

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