8 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Visits to Your Doctor (by a Doctor)

Introduction

Being both a physician and a patient I have picked up on certain tips and tricks which may not be entirely apparent to someone whose experience is confined to one side of the relationship.

A quick explanation: I have suffered from quite severe health problems most of my life.

From being in hospital in early childhood I was struck by how difficult things can be from the patient side.

It was one of the reasons I wanted to become a doctor in the first place and I believe this has made me a better physician.

Anyway there are certain things you can do that will help you to get the most out of your clinical interactions.

Being ill is bad enough as it is. Why make it worse than it has to be?

Good communication saves time, money and means you don’t have to undergo unnecessary investigations and procedures.

It doesn’t just work one way though — good communication is vital to a successful therapeutic relationship and these things may help your doctor too.


1) Take a copy of your prescription

This is especially true if it is the first time you are seeing someone.

–Yes they should have been sent a list of your medications but it doesn’t always happen on time and things aren’t always at hand.

I personally keep a list of my medication in a Word document so I can just print it out and take it with me to give to the doctor.

A photocopy of your prescription/taking your medications with you can also be helpful, –but be careful not to leave anything out.

A preprinted list is best because you can leave it with your doctor in case they want to attach a copy to your notes.

Also if it needs to be entered into a computer you won’t have to wait around while someone does it.


2) Write down questions and take a small notepad and pen with you

Even as a doctor myself I often find I forget certain things that I want to tell the doctor or ask them about.

– For this reason I take a small notepad with me every time.

Before I go I write down the specific questions I want answered so I don’t forget them. I also write down any relevant information during the appointment.

If it is anything particularly complex e.g. a drug or procedure I am not familiar with I ask them to write it down.


3) Take a friend or relative

Two heads are better than one.

– As long as you as the patient agree to another party (e.g. a friend or relative) being present your doctor should be fine with it.

A loved one can bring up any important points that you have missed and they can also be another source of valuable information which you may forget or not be aware of.

For example in some cases I have discovered very important signs/symptoms that had not been noticed by the patient themselves but had been spotted by the wife or husband.


4) Don’t be afraid to ask about things you don’t understand

Part of the doctor’s job is to explain things to you and act as a bridge between the regular world and the world of medical science.

There is no shame in saying you don’t understand something.

– It is not your failure, rather the doctor should have explained things better.

Doctors are human beings and fallible so by letting them know this you are actually helping them out and making them better at doing their job.

They may not realise they are using too much jargon or speaking too fast.

Pointing this out may not just help you but could help every other patient that they see (and make their job easier).


5) If you don’t have enough time ask for another appointment

Doctors and health professionals are busy, — we all know that.

Sometimes you will find that your appointment time is running out and you can’t cover everything that you need to.

Ask for another appointment so you can discuss things further. A good doctor will happily do this for you.

Obviously how soon the appointment will be depends on a number of factors but for serious matters it should be fast — if not tell them/bring it to their attention.


6) If you are not happy about something say so

If you aren’t happy with a situation tell your doctor.

Often I have had patients who are having terrible side effects with a medication and stop taking it, but are too scared to say so because they think it will cause offence.

It won’t — I have stopped medications before for similar reasons.

If there is a problem or you are not happy tell them they are not psychic so will appreciate it!

They work for you not the other way around.


7) Ask if you can get copies of your letters

This is particularly useful for visits to see specialists — many clinics nowadays will ask you if you want copies of your letters.

Even if they don’t specifically ask check to see if the option is available.

–This may be more common practice in countries with primarily private healthcare (e.g. US) but I think it is equally important and useful in places like the UK.

The letter gives you an extra summary of what the doctor thought of your case. There may also be extra information such as test results which were not available at the time.

In some cases you may also find the situation easier to understand when you aren’t under the pressure of being at an appointment.

–Sometimes acute anxiety can make it difficult to understand things during the appointment itself. A copy of the letter can give you another chance to “digest” the relevant points in a neutral situation.

Think of it like being a backup of your appointment.


8) If your doctor doesn’t listen get a new doctor

Although we have an ever growing list of technology with various tests and scans, the single most important thing any doctor can do is listen to you as a patient.

If they don’t do that you should get a new doctor.

–No, really I’m serious. If they don’t listen they are of no use to you.

True clinical medicine is like a Sherlock Holmes mystery which needs to be solved using the information and evidence at hand.

Contrary to the impression that the mass media may give you the biggest source of evidence is not modern technology.

– It is the words that come out of your mouth and the physical impression that the doctor makes of you that is most important.

If they are not listening they are not doing their job. Find someone else that will.


Conclusion

I hope you have found this information useful.

If you have any tips of your own or anything you would like to add let me know in the comments. Please also share this information with others who you think may benefit.


Thank you for reading


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