When first seeing a specialist for a new medical problem, many patients simply show up at the appointed time and place, trying to suppress their fears and anxiety, and too passively go through the process of history, physical examination and discussion.
When you have a new doctor, taking a more active role will lead to a better and more productive appointment. Here are some tips to help you do just that:
1. Bring copies of your relevant records. You are the one who can best maintain an accurate and chronological sequence of records of your allergies, previous illnesses and operations, and previous hospital admissions.
2. Bring a full list of your current medications. It will also help if you know of medications you have been on in the recent past and why they were stopped.
3. Plan to have someone come to the appointment with you. Studies have shown that anybody under stress in a doctor’s office will struggle to hear, and interpret, everything that’s said. A companion can serve not just as a driver or cheerleader, but also as another set of eyes and ears.
4. Do your homework. Think about why you’re going for this consultation. What do you hope to learn? Prepare a list of questions and write them down. Remember, no question is unreasonable if it’s something that matters to you.
5. Do online research beforehand—it can help shape your list of questions. Keep in mind, however, that there is a lot of confusing and anecdotal material on the Internet, so it is best to consult websites with established standards, such as the NIH, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, major specialty societies, and prominent academic medical centers. Wikipedia also is a useful, quick reference tool.
6. Beware of well-meaning advice. It’s common when faced with a worrying medical problem to receive unsolicited and well-intended advice from family, friends and coworkers, many of whom seem to know someone with exactly the same rare condition you might have. While they wish to provide you with comfort and encouragement, “hearsay” evidence is generally unreliable.
7. Know where you’re going and how long it will take. Be on time—not stressed about being late or in the wrong place. Smartphone apps and GPS can help, but a phone call establishing exactly where you need to be might save you a lot of anxiety. Also ask how long the appointment is likely to take so you can plan accordingly.
8. Bring something distracting. Unfortunately, many consultations don’t begin on time, or you might be sent for additional tests. Reading material, a smartphone or laptop, games or knitting can help pass the time.
9. Bring a pen and paper. Your list of questions may grow while you are waiting, and you or your companion might want to take notes during the appointment.
10. Answer questions honestly and fully. Even when the questions seem repetitious or intrusive, sharing your health information will help the doctor help you.
11. Know what the “take-away” message is. It’s useful after a consultation to focus on the most important details, and this can be easily achieved if you summarize your understanding of what has been said and is planned while your doctor is still in the room. Alternatively, you can ask your doctor to summarize for you.
12. Request special accommodations if needed. Medical translators and telephonic services are readily available; let the receptionist know of your need when you make an appointment. Language should never be a barrier to full understanding and free questioning.
13. Don’t leave the doctor’s office until you know the plan: Do you have prescriptions? How about appointments for tests, or do you need to schedule these yourself? Is the specialist going to talk to your primary doctor or send a report? You should ask for your own copy of important test results and reports.
14. Lastly, know how to contact the doctor. Be sure to ask the specialist how he or she wants to be contacted if you have any follow-up questions.
To find an excellent doctor who is right for you, please call our Physician Referral Service at 866.804.1007.