When we visit the doctor we expect to be listened to, to receive quality care, and to leave the appointment feeling satisfied with the experience and any planned follow-up. And it is, indeed, the doctor’s job to engage us in mutual conversation that’s both compassionate and educational. In turn, it’s the patient’s job to honestly and accurately explain his or her medical history and symptoms, to ask questions, and to indicate whether he or she understands the doctor.
This sounds simple enough, but the truth is that patients are sometimes overwhelmed, upset, distracted, or anxious during an appointment and may have difficulty advocating for themselves by asking good questions.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your next appointment, and improve your communication and satisfaction with your doctor.
1. Don’t be shy. Doctors have seen and heard it all. It’s in your best interest to share your complete medical history and a detailed timeline of your current symptoms and concerns.
2. Be clear. Be receptive. Make sure you and your doctor understand each other early in the conversation by asking questions to confirm your understanding and by clearly asserting your thoughts and ideas.
3. Engage. Be an active participant in the physical exam through responsive questions and accurate answers.
4. Be a team player. Work with your doctor to develop a diagnosis. If a list of possible diagnoses is determined, do your part to further explore and narrow down the list.
5. Focus on treatment. Again, work with your doctor to create a strategy for treatment and recovery, if necessary. If you have ideas for treatment not mentioned by your doctor, bring it up and get your doctor’s opinion. Choose a treatment method based on evidence and your preferences.
6. Be prepared. If further testing is needed, inquire about alternatives, risks, and benefits, and make sure you understand any special diets or instructions. Ask for everything in writing if possible.
7. Leave with a plan. Before you walk out the door, confirm the doctor’s findings and recommendations. If you want a second opinion, ask for a referral. Quality medical professionals are open to patients seeking other opinions because they are confident in their own skills, and they have the best interest of the patient in mind.
As a patient, you have the right to fully informed consent and refusal, meaning your doctor is responsible for telling you all pertinent information related to your concern, and you can refuse treatment if you choose. You are also responsible for your own health. The best way to fulfill this is to be honest and open with your doctor throughout your appointment and follow-up care, and to do your best to take care of yourself.