When you aren’t feeling well, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed at a doctor’s appointment. If you’re experiencing new symptoms or if your old symptoms have gotten worse, you may feel anxious, and nervous, and may forget to ask important questions. Doctor’s visits are often pressed for time, which may add to your nervousness. This may make it more difficult to cover all your bases.
Being prepared for an appointment with your doctor and being your own health advocate is critical to getting the most out of your visit. When you gather the information you need beforehand, you can make the visit go more smoothly and ensure you are getting answers to all your questions so you leave feeling better than when you walked in.
Why It’s Important to Be Prepared
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how we all go about our daily lives and do things, including a visit to the doctor. From March to the end of April 2021, outpatient visits dropped nearly 60%. While visits began to climb, there was a shift from in-person visits to telemedicine. Telemedicine appointments are helpful because it can save you and your doctor time, but also has limitations like the inability to do a physical examination.
Doctors are spending less time with their patients as schedules have become even more crowded than in pre-pandemic times. This makes addressing complex illnesses or comorbid conditions even more challenging.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get more time with your doctor, which is why it’s important to come to your appointment prepared. The better you are able to convey your health issues to your doctor with greater accuracy, the more likely you will be to get the answers and the treatment protocol you need.
5 Tips to Prepare For a Doctor’s Appointment
Organize Your Medical History
One of the first questions a physician’s assistant or nurse will ask you when you arrive at a doctor’s appointment is for your medical history. This is so the doctor can get a better understanding of why you may be experiencing the symptoms you are having and develop a better treatment plan. It can also provide them with information about what treatment or test you’ve already received and if you need to see another specialist.
When trying to gather your medical history, think of the 5 Ws and H:
- What are the primary complaints of your health issue? List any new or old symptoms and their level of frequency and intensity.
- When did they first start? Did one symptom lead to another or did they all come on at once?
- Where were you when they first occurred? Was it in your regular living space or were you in a dark room, surrounded by more lights than usual, or in a new place you’ve never visited before?
- Who was with you when you first started having symptoms? Were there specific people present when they were worse? Did certain people help them get better?
- Why do you think these symptoms were triggered? Did you have another illness, like a cold, previously? Maybe you were experiencing more stress than normal or exposed to something different.
- How are the symptoms related? Do these symptoms impact your quality of life? Is there anything that makes them better or worse, like over-the-counter medications, exercise, or more sleep?
It may be easier to answer questions like these ahead of time, rather than trying to remember everything while at your appointment. This gives you more time to reflect on your symptoms and give your provider the correct information.
Track Your Data
The more data you have to give your doctor the better. Before heading into your appointment, compile a list of information related to your health:
- Current medications and dosages, and any supplements you are taking
- Personal and family medical history, including chronic disease, surgeries, and bone fractures
- Bring or send electronically ahead of time copies of lab tests, x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and reports from other providers that are relevant to your current condition
- Journal of your symptoms
- Brief description of daily lifestyle, like diet, exercise, and if you drink or smoke
Collecting and tracking your health data can seem like an overwhelming and impossible task. Remember to do your best. If you forget anything, you can easily add it to your note for the next time you visit your doctor. Many doctor’s offices have online patient portals where you can also send them a message directly, instead of having to wait.
Set an Agenda
When you prepare for a work or school meeting, often times the person who called the meeting sets an agenda. An agenda makes meeting objectives clear, lists topics for discussion, clarifies expectations, and often allows time for questions and discussion. Studies show that agenda-setting is associated with more efficient care and better patient experiences. Although you may not have as clear or structured of an agenda for your doctor as you would a work meeting, having some kind of agenda can help you stay on topic and address all of your concerns.
At the beginning of your appointment, let the provider know exactly what you want to discuss in a few short sentences. This may look something like this:
“I’ve been experiencing some new symptoms over the last few weeks that are impacting my daily life. I’m not sure what caused the symptoms and I’ve tried a few over-the-counter options that don’t seem to be helping. I want to use our time today to figure out what might be the cause of the symptoms so I get to the root of the issue and start the right treatment to help me feel better.”
Even just a few brief sentences can help your provider understand right away why you are there and what you want to get out of your time together. Keep in mind that sometimes physicians may need to order lab tests or x-rays to get an accurate diagnosis. Be open to leaving the appointment without an exact diagnosis, but with a plan to find one.
Bring a List of Questions
Anytime there are changes to your health, you are going to have questions. The few days leading up to your appointment make a list of questions that you find popping into your head. They may be about the symptoms, causes, treatments, or even next steps like lab work. Some common questions to ask are:
- What may have caused this condition or these symptoms?
- Why are my symptoms getting worse?
- What are the long-term effects of the condition?
- How can I learn more about it?
- Are there any lifestyle changes I can implement that can help?
- Are there any other conditions I am now at risk for?
- What kinds of tests should I have done?
While this is a great place to start, try to get as specific as possible with your questions as they relate to your current health. Again, you may be pressed for time and won’t be able to cover everything. That’s ok! Just remember to prioritize the top two or three questions you have.
Request an Appointment Summary
An appointment summary sometimes called a patient visit summary or visit note, is often automatically generated and sent to patients through the patient portal. It will contain information like your doctor’s name when your appointment was, the reason for your visit, and other important information like:
- Laboratory results
- X-ray, MRI, and CT scan results
- Notes about your conversation
- Prescribed medications and dosages
- Next steps
If you are unsure if your doctor generates appointment summaries, ask at the beginning of your appointment. This way you know if it’s going to be important for you to take notes during your visit or if you need to request one. It can be helpful to have your doctor put one together for you so you can be focused during the visit and not as concerned with frantically writing down everything your doctor says.
Get The Care You Deserve
Experiencing new symptoms, or worsening old symptoms can be an incredibly emotional time. This is likely adding even more stress to your already busy schedule. It may seem like going to the doctor won’t be helpful or give you answers to why you are feeling the way you are, which is why preparing for your appointment is vital to making sure you get the care you deserve.
If you are struggling to connect with your doctor or are finding it difficult to explain your symptoms, you are not alone. There are thousands of members at PatientsLikeMe who understand how difficult a visit to the doctor can be. Join the community today to learn about how others prepare for a successful doctor’s appointment.