One step the wrong way and that all too familiar pain shot through my hip. I knew my face to face time with the hip specialist would be very limited. With a complex illness, my experience has taught me how to get the most out of my time with the doctor. Insurance based medical practices are under great pressure to see a specific (large) number of patients per hour. As much as your doctor would like to spend the afternoon addressing all of your issues, they cannot do that. Whether you are seeing a medical professional for an injury or a complex illness, a little preparation before your appointment can help you make the most of your limited time with your doctor.
- Keep a log – Before you even pick up the phone to schedule an appointment, keep a log of your symptoms. When did the symptoms start? What makes the symptoms worse and better? What medications, prescription or over the counter, have you tried? What was the result of taking those medications? Have you identified anything that triggers the symptoms? These will be some of the first questions your doctor will ask. Recording this data as it occurs will give you and your doctor a clearer picture of your symptoms.
- Prioritize your concerns – What are your immediate concerns with this injury? Do you need immediate pain relief to return to work? Complex illness can often affect your whole body, creating a long list of symptoms. Pick a couple of the most pressing issues to address first. It will give clarity and direction to the conversation with your doctor.
- Learn the system – When scheduling your appointment, ask the front office staff about the best way to cover all of your concerns with your doctor. For multiple issues, some doctors prefer to book one longer appointment, while others prefer a series of shorter appointments over time. The front office staff will know the most efficient way to address all of your concerns with the doctor.
- Arrive early and prepared – There are usually forms to be completed before an appointment. Arrive early enough to have time to complete the paperwork before your appointment time. Bring information about previous surgeries, treatments, and medications with you. With a complex illness, dates of surgeries and treatments can blur together. I keep a document on my phone that has a list of my surgeries, including the surgeon’s information, my current medications, and allergies.
- Bring a notebook – The first thing in the notebook should the list of concerns you discussed with the front office staff for this appointment. Think of it as your agenda for the meeting. During the appointment, take notes on the doctor’s response to your concern, including the treatment plan. Some people find it helpful to bring a trusted friend or family member to act as a scribe. This person’s role is simply to write notes of the conversation, but not necessarily participate in the conversation. Appointments can be overwhelming, especially when you are in pain. Notes help you accurately remember the details.
- Follow up and update – As you follow the treatment plan, take notes of how your body responds, positively or negatively. This is the first step to preparing for your follow up appointment.
As the schedules of our medical professionals are being strangled by the insurance industry, it is more important than ever that we, the patients, take an active role in our medical appointments. Doing your homework before you walk into the doctor’s office will bring clarity to your appointment and will have you swinging faster, playing better and hurting less a lot sooner.