Our guide to getting the most out of doctor's appointments
Published Feb 19, 2020 • By Camille Dauvergne
Getting an appointment, getting there, asking the right questions...How can you make sure your exchanges with your doctors are productive and informative? Read our tips and share your own in the comments!
"No openings for the next 6 months", "I'm not sure who I should see", "I forgot to ask my doctor something", "I didn't understand a thing", "My doctor didn't explain how my treatment works or how I'm supposed to take it"... sound familiar?
You've probably made these sorts observations, and that's not surprising since it's getting harder and harder to see a medical professional quickly, even in urban areas where medical services are more common! Practitioners have to see an ever-growing number of patients and sometimes can't give them the time they really need during an exam or respond to their questions in the limited time frame available...
We though a brief guide to help you get the most out of your medical appointments might be just what the doctor ordered!
It starts with making an appointment
Today, it's possible to make appointments with many health care professionals via specialized web sites: it's fast, easy and intuitive! But you could also call your doctor's receptionist to make an appointment.
- Planning is the magic word. If you already know what you'll be doing in the next few months, don't forget to include your medical appointments in your calendar. Another tip is to make your next appointment directly after seeing your doctor if time allows.
- Ask your doctor how often you should come to see them. That will allow you to plan your appointments and reminders.
-If you're sure what kind of medical professional you should see, talk to your family doctor about it!
Going to your appointment
It might seem obvious, but for some patients, including some elderly ones, getting around is complicated, especially if your condition has an impact on your mobility.
- Ask someone close to you, someone you can trust or even your home help aide to go with you to the doctor's office. They can help you not only to get to where you need to be but during the appointment, they can note and repeat your doctor's advice and ask questions if necessary.
- If you need help getting to a local GP or dentist appointment, ask your doctor if there are non-emergency patient transport services (PTS) available in your area, or check out volunteer organizations such as the Patient Advocate Foundation or private companies like Circulation or Roundtrip that help people struggling to get to medical appointments reach their destinations.
In the waiting room
Upon arrival, you'll usually need to check-in at the receptionist desk. If there's no reception, take a seat in the waiting room and the doctor will call you once it's your turn.
- You'll need to register if this is the first time you're seeing a new medical professional. Make sure to bring along any necessary documents for the appointment, for example, health records, letters from other physicians, x-ray or test results, etc. And be sure to let the office know if your contact information (telephone number, address, etc) changes in any way.
- The waiting times may be long, think of ways of occupying your time! Bring a book to read, respond to your emails, organize your calendar for the next few days or for the week, help your children with their homework, etc.
During the appointment
The doctor will usually only have a limited amount of time to see you, so make sure to be as organized as possible.
- If it's the first time you're seeing the doctor, prepare a written description of what's ailing you: where, how often, how long, how intense, in what context, current treatments if any, any other health care professionals you may have seen, etc. If you have them, bring the results of the exams you've taken with other doctors.
- If it's a follow-up appointment, it's a good idea to keep a health journal at home where you can note down any symptoms, their frequency, their intensity, any new symptoms and when they appeared, your mood, level of fatigue or trouble breathing, any self-tests (weight, blood pressure, glycemia, for example), etc. You can show this information to your doctor which will allow them to have a more detailed vision of your current health state.
- Prepare in advance, writing down any questions you'd like to ask your doctor. Try to keep your questions as direct, clear and precise as possible.
- If you didn't understand something about your diagnosis and/or treatments at the end of the consultation, ask your physician about it. Of course, there are some questions for which your doctor may not have a clear answer.
What about you, do you have tips to make every medical appointment as successful as possible?