Going to a new doctor can feel intimidating or overwhelming especially when you are very ill and/or are traveling a long distance for an appointment. Therefore, to get the most out of your appointment, you want to get the attention of your new doctor right away as they themselves are often overwhelmed by the number of patients they have and their own personal lives and may not be able to spend as much time with you as you had anticipated. Now I’m going to show you how to do it.
This is how you communicate with the doctor since doctors think a certain way and will appreciate your being a team player:
Step A: Report to the doctor – In preparation for your doctor’s appointment, you should put together a packet of information (which should be handed to the doctor at the beginning of your appointment) using a universal format – Presenting Complaints; History; Physical; Laboratory – which I outline below:
• Presenting Complaints: On a sheet of paper, or preferably typed out using a computer or typewriter, put the date of your appointment at the top of the page and then put your full name along with the heading “Presenting Complaints” (e.g., “Jane Kennedy’s Presenting Complaints”). Below this heading, on one or two lines at the most – keep it simple – state your reason for coming to the doctor.
• Medical History: Underneath the “Presenting Complaints” you would then put the heading “Jane Kennedy’s Medical History”, under which you should write a few short paragraphs in your own words of the history of your illness. Here is where you should list all subjective symptoms (what you are experiencing and how you feel – e.g., difficulty breathing; lassitude; brain fog – not what you can see or hear as you will describe all objective symptoms in the “Physical” section that follows). Write down anything you notice even if the symptoms may seem unrelated or even embarrassing or else you could be leaving out critical clues as to what is wrong with you. Again, keep this pithy.
• Physical: Below your Medical History, in a short paragraph, describe those symptoms you are experiencing that are objective (something you can see or hear, e.g. a rash; wheezing; dry skin).
Current Medications and Supplements: Then, below “Physical”, in a separate paragraph entitled “Current Medications and Supplements”, list all medications you are currently taking (dose and how often) as well as all herbal and/or vitamin supplements you are taking (dose and how often). List any positive or negative effects you have noticed – subjective and objective – from taking any of the medications and/or herbal or vitamin supplements.
• Laboratory: Make photocopies of all your medical records (all blood tests and CT scan, MRI and X-ray results) from the past year or so prior to seeing the doctor, or as far back as your illness goes, and put them in chronological order in a binder with clear plastic sheets so that the doctor can easily flip through them. As well, remember to ask at the time of making your appointment if the doctor will want you to bring a copy of the actual CT scan, MRI or X-ray film as it may take you some time to get a copy from the doctor or hospital where the test was performed. This will certainly get the doctor’s attention as he will appreciate you having saved him the time of having to track down your old medical records, and it will also help in the doctor’s differential diagnosis as he may immediately eliminate certain illnesses based upon your test results, or he may decide to repeat certain tests. Make note that anytime you have any testing done, always ask the doctor who ordered the tests or their nurse for a copy of all your test results and keep them in a safe place! As well, put a tiny red check mark (use a red pen) on the corner of your copy so that you never mix up your copy with any photocopies you may make for future doctors.
Step B: You can help yourself – As you often only have a small window of time with a new doctor, it would help both of you if you did some research of your own before your appointment. Go on the Internet and poke around. You may want to print out and bring with you any journal articles or anything else you find that you feel would be helpful in making a diagnosis.
Step 1: Interacting with the doctor and his office – Make a list of any questions you have for the doctor and hand them to him at the beginning of your appointment. If you wait until the end of the appointment to ask questions, there may not be enough time for the doctor to address them. Be brief and to the point – it helps the doctor focus on what you want to have accomplished rather than waste time.
Step 2: Take Notes – Bring a pad and pencil with you to your appointment and take notes while the doctor is speaking. Or, if you are not well enough to do that and are bringing a trusted family member or friend with you to sit in on your appointment, ask them to take notes for you. Write down any recommendations or orders the doctor gives you so that you do not have to call the doctor’s office after your appointment unnecessarily.
Step 3: Payment – When making your appointment, ask the receptionist what form of payment your doctor takes, and whether or not they submit insurance claims. If you have insurance, don’t forget to take your insurance card with you! I have been to doctors who don’t take insurance and only accept checks as payment so make sure to ask ahead of time.
Step 4: Call ahead – Although many doctors’ offices call ahead to confirm appointments, some do not and others may forget. Therefore, the week of your appointment, call the doctor’s office to confirm your appointment, and make sure they have you down for the correct day and time. Secondly, oftentimes doctors run late and so, on the day of your appointment, you may want to call a few hours ahead of your appointment to see if the doctor is running behind, that way you can avoid undue time sitting in the waiting room. However, especially if you are a new patient, it is still always best to arrive at the doctor’s office at least half an hour before your appointment in case you need to fill out any forms and so you have time to collect yourself before your appointment (read over your questions and your medical history).
Step 5: Be Respectful – You should always be respectful of the doctor’s time and make it a point to show up to your appointment on time or even a little before as I mentioned. If a nurse or secretary fit you in as a favor, be sure to thank them and the doctor as well.
Step 6: Don’t Feel Intimidated – If you are feeling uncomfortable with what a doctor is recommending or how he is treating you, you don’t have to continue with him. You don’t have any obligation to follow his advice or go any further with him as a doctor. If you are feeling unduly rushed or if the doctor doesn’t look over any of the information you brought him, that is a red flag and you should probably seek out other medical advice – follow your intuition; it works. Unfortunately, the patient oftentimes needs to be their own best advocate. If you are too ill to think clearly, you should always try to bring a trusted family member or friend with you to your appointment.