Whether we have chronic medical conditions or just go to specialist once in a while. It is one of those situations that take us completely outside of our comfort zone. A situation that we often don’t think about until we’re in the office. And yet can be so important to prepare for… It is important to prepare for medical appointments and be ready for communicating with the doctor or other provider, so that you can get the answers that you need to your questions and be able to organize the information in a way that helps you put that information into practice with what the doctor wants you to do moving forward.
There is an acronym that I like from the book, Living a Healthy Life With Chronic Conditions. It is important to look ahead to a medical appointment with a specialist or looking into a specific medical problems and be prepared. The acronym I like for providing a structure for this is: PART. This is a great acronym because it helps you keep in mind that a medical appointment isn’t something that is happening to you or a family member, but a chance for you to take an active role in your medical care and give you the information you need to move forward.
Before you have a medical appointment it is important to prepare for the appointment. What will that visit be like? What answers are you hoping to get through meeting with this doctor? What questions do you have? As you prepare, have a special notebook that you use for medical appointments. Write your preparation down. The tendency is to feel like the doctor will give you the information you need so you don’t need to prepare, but the fact is that sometimes they don’t. They may think you already know or they forget what is important to tell you. List out your questions that you have going in to the appointment and anticipate questions that may come up during the appointment.
When you are at the appointment and sometimes even when you are making the appointment ask good questions. The doctor’s or other provider’s visit is often fast and sometimes evokes significant emotions in us, which makes it harder to get all of the information that we need. As a result, it is important to make sure you ask the needed questions. The doctor is there to meet your needs. So even if they seem in a hurry make sure you insist on having your questions answered. Ask questions about diagnosis, possible outcomes, why certain tests or medications are used, the time committment, the cost, procedures needed, process, and outcome are like. Then ask what the bigger picture is. At times, you will have to make a decision there that won’t be obvious to you. I had a friend who talked about how effective it was to ask the doctor what they would do if it was their mother needing the treatment what they would do. It was amazing how this changed the answer the doctor gave in comparison to “what would you do?”
One helpful communication strategy, is repeat back what you think you heard. If you as a doctor a question or he gives you a piece of information and it is particularly loaded or has a lot of information in it repeat back to him to make sure you understand what he is saying and got all of the pieces to what he was saying.
Make sure you know what the next steps are for after the appointment. What initial tests/appointments need to happen, what follow-up activities or habits need to take place. Make sure it is clear when you leave the office or get off of the phone that you know what your role is in the next steps and what role your doctor his office has in the last steps.
Remember, you have a big part to play in advocating for yourself or family member as a patient. How you approach the medical appointments and the lengths you go to make sure you have the information you need and understand what it all means will make a big difference in your health as a result.