This is not just your problem, but a problem with most people around the world.
Here are a handful of practical tips that will help you in the best manner possible when you are at a loss for words at your doctor's office. First things, first.
When must you visit the doctor?
Most of us tend to ignore our pains and symptoms, saying, "Oh, it is nothing," presuming they will vanish on their own. It is this neglect that causes a minor ailment to boomerang into a major problem, which needs more time, effort and resources to treat.
Make an appointment to visit your doctor whenever you experience any of the following:
- Unexplained weight loss/weight gain
- Unexplained tiredness
- Unexplained fever or cough that persists for over a week
- Changes in bowel habits or persistent bowel upsets
- Severe, recurrent headaches
- Night sweats.
Also, see your doctor whenever a symptom comes on suddenly, and lasts for more than two weeks, or gets worse instead of better and disrupts your daily routine.
Preparing for the visit
You wouldn't ever get into your business meeting without some preparation or notes, would you? So, shouldn't you give the same amount of importance for a vital meeting about your health, if not more, with your doctor?
Your doctor will first ask you about your symptoms, and their history. This will help them to arrive at a diagnosis. In moments of stress, patients often forget to mention each and every symptom, or the correct order in which they appeared, and since how long they have been experiencing them. In order to give your doctor the correct picture, it is best for you to write them down on a piece of paper well in advance.
Answering the following questions will help you summarise your problems. Time saved on trying to recollect all of this in the doctor's office will give you the time to discuss your queries, treatment options, and other health issues with your doctor. Also, your doctor will appreciate the effort you have put in, to make his/her life easier.
- What are your symptoms? For e.g., fever, cough and breathlessness
- When did each of the symptoms begin?
- What did the symptoms feel like? For e.g., was the fever all day long, or only at night and so on
- Have the symptoms gotten better or worse since they started? Is it constant or does it come and go?
- Does anything trigger the symptoms? For e.g., certain foods, or activities that make them worse
- Has anyone in your family faced similar problems?
- Anything that relieves or aggravates your symptoms?
You need to include names of all medicines that you take, including over-the-counter [OTC] pills etc., to tackle the symptoms yourself. Don't be embarrassed to tell your doctor about the medicines that you have taken before seeing him/her:
Also, make a list of any prescription medicines that you might already be taking. For e.g., medications for blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis. It is always too easy to forget one of these at your doctor's clinic, if you haven't jotted them down.
You probably just walk into your family doctor's clinic without an appointment most of the times. Remember: consultants/specialists have to be met with prior appointment. All the same, informing the secretary or the front desk about the nature of your ailment gives your doctor an idea of the time s/he needs to allot to your case. Arriving on time for your appointment shows that you respect his/her time and that s/he should also value yours.
If you are frustrated waiting endlessly for your appointment, it is a good idea to take the first slot in the morning, or the first slot after lunch. Doctors are generally punctual with these appointments. As the day progresses, an emergency case or other unpunctual patients can upset everyone's schedule, or applecart.
During the visit
Things that you must remember to take along:
- List of questions and concerns
- List of current medications and doses including vitamins and natural/herbal remedies
- Blank paper for notes and pen
- If you have had a previous medical history, carry along your hospitalisation details and discharge cards
- Also, carry your health insurance card. Most health insurance policies do not cover out-patient visits or
- investigations. Just in case your doctor feels that you require hospitalisation, this will be of great help in seeking authorisation from your insurance company.
- You may take along a relative or friend when you meet your doctor. Having company will make you more comfortable - that you have someone who can provide moral support and/or take down the doctor's instructions while you are in discussion.
- It is a good idea to have two copies of the symptoms and medications notes, so that you can give one to your doctor and have one for yourself to take him/her through the problems in detail.
Ask, if you are not sure -
Please tell me more about something - whatever it is - that you did not follow
- What does that mean in simple words?
- Could you kindly explain this to me again?
- Could you write this down for me?
- Talk to your doctor about...
- Your diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol, and sleep habits
- Family/relationship problems
- Your occupation and its unique demands/risks
- Work and/or home stress
- Health improvements that you'd like to make.
Points to ponder
- Don't be shy or embarrassed to discuss anything. You should know that doctors have seen it all and heard it all. Most of all, they are there to help you. Hiding any problem/s can only make things worse for you. Also, don't minimise, or play down, your problems with your doctor
- Please remember that your doctor cannot read your mind. You must tell him/her everything that you think, feel and know about your problem if you want your doctor to help you in the best way possible
- Ask, ask, ask - if you cannot understand your doctor's explanation, feel free to ask them to explain to you in simple language. Repeat what you think the doctor said in your own words. This can clear up confusion, ensure you don't miss important points, and help you remember instructions
- Don't be nervous to share your thoughts. If you are worried about your condition, say so. If you think some of their instructions are hard to follow day-after-day, say so. Your doctor will suggest some alternatives. Don't ever lie about your habits or problems to your doctor
- Don't hesitate to discuss money matters. Whether your insurance company is paying for your treatment or you are paying from your pocket, it is your right to remain concerned about the costs. Ask about cheaper options, or lifestyle changes. Your doctor will appreciate your straightforwardness.
Before leaving the clinic, find out
- When you should return for another visit
- Whether you are to phone in for any test results, or to report on your condition
- If there are certain warning signs you should watch for
- Whether there are materials you could take home or a Website you should visit to learn more about your diagnosis or treatment
- Don't leave the clinic with uncertainty on the nature of your diagnosis or treatment, or what you must do next.
After the Visit
- Set aside some time to go over your notes and think about what was discussed during the appointment. You can discuss any decisions that need to be made regarding treatment with your family, or a friend. This may result in additional or follow-up questions, which should be jotted down in preparation of the next appointment
- It is all right to call your doctor after your visit, if you come across any doubts, but don't overdo it. Most doctors will expect you to come in to see them to discuss any new problems
- Take your medicines regularly as prescribed by your doctor. Do not stop taking any medications abruptly without your doctor's knowledge. This can be life-threatening, at times
- Make a note of your symptoms, prescribed medications, reactions to treatment, and questions as they occur. Read them over before your next visit. Also, it is good to make a folder that carries all your medical records, investigation reports, case sheets, a log of your visits and anything else that you find related to your ailment
- Learn some basic medical terms. This will help you follow your progress and manage your care
- Doctors, like everyone else, are often pressed for time, but that doesn't mean they don't want to help. Perhaps, your doctor can set aside more time for you or schedule a phone call in the near future. Small gestures like being polite and respectful, wishing your doctor on Doctor's Day, and so on, can go a long way in building a good relationship
- Healthcare is truly a team effort. General practitioners, specialists, and individuals must work together for the best possible treatment outcomes.
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