Have you ever left the doctor’s office realizing you forgot to mention a symptom or ask a question? Do you walk out feeling as if you’ve forgotten instructions? You are not alone! Given that the average appointment lasts about 15 minutes, it is easy to feel rushed or unsure at the end of one.
According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 40 to 80 percent of medical information provided by health care practitioners is forgotten immediately, and the greater the amount of information provided, the less that is recalled. Fortunately, there are a few things you can prepare beforehand to ensure you or your loved one is getting the most out of office visits.
First, set goals for your appointment. Is this a wellness visit, a follow up on a chronic disease (diabetes or high blood pressure), or a new complaint? Have a plan walking into the office: “What do I want to see happen by the end of this visit?” Are you looking for a diagnosis, a change in medications, a new treatment, or a change to what you are already doing? Are you just looking for reassurance? This is important to know to avoid unnecessary testing. If you have several items you’d like addressed at your visit, make sure you ask for a longer appointment time, or schedule more than one appointment.
Second, list your symptoms. Often, your doctor will ask you to keep a symptom diary and pay attention to how your symptoms are changing over time. If this is done before your visit, it may help your doctor make a diagnosis. Be sure to note when your symptoms started, what they feel or look like, how severe the symptoms are, how they have changed, what seems to trigger your symptoms, and what seems to alleviate your symptoms. No greater honor can you give to a physician than to trust him or her with your health care. It can be difficult to be vulnerable with your physician and volunteer information about your symptoms and other health concerns. However, the more information your physician has, the more equipped he or she is to diagnose and heal.
Third, bring an organized copy of your medical information with you to your visit. Be sure to include a detailed history of your own health (including past medical diagnoses and surgeries), and that of your immediate family members. Include a list of your current medications (including prescriptions, over-the- counter products, and natural or herbal supplements) with the dosage and how often you take them. If you’re visiting your primary care physician, you also can bring all your medication bottles with you to the visit to ensure they align with what the doctor thinks you are taking. It is also important to include names and phone numbers for emergency contacts, doctors you’ve received treatment from in the past and why, and your preferred pharmacy.
If your doctor has ordered testing (lab work or imaging) to be completed prior to your appointment, ensure the office has received the results prior to your appointment. This most often occurs when your primary physician orders testing prior to your visit with a specialist. A couple of days before your visit, contact the office to be sure that all of your records, imaging, and laboratory results have been received. This will make the visit with the consultant go much smoother and be more productive.
Fourth, don’t be afraid to ask questions or voice concerns. There is no such thing as a dumb question – this is your body and you are the person who needs to understand the plan in order to take the best care of yourself. Consider writing down specific questions you would like to ask your doctor to help you stay focused during the visit.
Finally, take notes during the office visit. Consider using a notepad, your phone notes app, bringing someone to take notes for you, or asking your doctor to write down or print off a summary of the office visit. Make sure a plan for follow-up is made, with instructions on what to do if treatment isn’t working, and how to get in touch with the doctor.