Defuse the stress and get more out of your doctor's appointment with these simple tips.
Going to the doctor is more than just stressful, it can be downright awful. Not only do you almost always have to wait forever for your appointment, but the practitioners also tend to be overbooked and rushed.
“Developing a good relationship with your doctor is so important, but it can be tough to do,” says Jenni Prokopy, who is in and out of doctors’ offices often and blogs about living with fibromyalgia. “Physicians’ practices just seem to get busier, which means doctors—and the people who work for them—can be less available and accommodating.”
Even so, there are some things you can do to forge a better connection with your practitioner and make the experience less stressful and more productive, Prokopy adds.
Here, simple tips and strategies that can help you do just that, according to folks living with chronic health conditions that require regular doctors visits.
Rehearse the topics you want to tackle.
It may seem unnecessary, but Prokopy says reviewing what she wants to discuss with her doctor can really help her stay on track once she’s in the exam room. She’ll either go over her talking points with her husband or a friend or just simply state them out loud to herself while she drives to the doc’s office. “Doctors are always short on time, so I rehearse what I need to say to make sure I’m as concise as possible,” Prokopy says. “Practicing what I want to say also helps me pick out the most pertinent points.”
Mary Leah Caillier Coco, who was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition at age 30, follows a similar strategy. She says she’ll often run what she wants to ask her doctor by a friend with a similar health issue. “Oftentimes, that friend can answer some of my simpler questions so I don’t waste time on those, and she’ll also give me advice on other points to bring up with my doctor,” Coco says.
Do just the right amount of research.
Natasha Tracy, who writes about her bipolar disorder likes to do a little bit of research about her symptoms on trusted sites—but not too much. “It’s great to be informed about what you want to discuss with your physician, but you also don’t want to come off as that patient who thinks she knows more than her doctor,” she says.
E-mail your Dr the topics you’d like to review ahead of time.
While this tactic may only work if it’s a doctor you’re well established with and who knows your health history, Prokopy says it can really help both the patient and the doc make the most of a limited appointment time. “I e-mail a list of symptoms I’m having to my doctor’s office before my appointment, and oftentimes the doc will skim the info before she walks in to examine me,” says Prokopy. “It leaves more time for discussion—and questions.”
Leisha Davison-Yasol, the author of the personal health blog, Cancer In My Thirties, has a slightly different approach. Rather than e-mailing her doctor before the appointment, she keeps a running list of her symptoms in the “Notes” app on her phone. “If the doctor seems rushed during my appointment, I hand him my phone to read the notes,” she says. “He can read through that list faster than I could explain them to him, which means we have more time to go over my treatment plan.”
Book a double appointment.
If you know you’re going to need a significant amount of time with the practitioner, ask the receptionist how long the appointment slots are—and request a double appointment if you’re worried the allotted time won’t be enough, Tracy suggests.
Asking to speak with a nurse can also be a good tactic, as they often have more time in their schedule. More often than not, they're able to answer all the same questions as your doctor.
Find a good health advocate (and maybe even bring her to your appointment).
If you’re seeing your doc for something routine—like an annual checkup or sick visit—you can likely handle it on your own. But if you’re worried about something in particular, or have recently been diagnosed with a condition that’s going to involve a lot of follow-up treatment, it’s a good idea to bring a smart and confident friend with you to your appointment, Davison-Yaso says. “You need someone who’s going to help you ask questions, remember the answers, and who isn’t going to be afraid to politely push back when you need more explanation,” she says.
If bringing a friend isn’t an option, Coco recommends voice recording your visit. “Doctors talk fast and throw out a lot of big medical terms,” she says. “If you can play back what she says, you’ll be able to digest it when you’re not so overwhelmed or stunned.”
First published: 6 Oct 2017