Whether our health concerns are simple or complex, every visit to a doctor should make progress toward your health goals. Here are some helpful tips in making your visits more productive:
*When you schedule your appointment, tell the scheduler what the visit is for and the issues you wish to cover. This will help ensure that you are assigned an appropriate length of time on the doctor’s schedule.
*Come prepared. Bring your photo ID, your insurance cards, an updated list of all medications (including supplements and vitamins), and a written list of questions and concerns. If you are reporting new symptoms, it is helpful for you to be able to provide information about duration, extent, severity, and other factors that will help the doctor pinpoint your problem. If you use hearing aids, mobility aids, or glasses, by all means have them with you. If English is your second language, ask the clinic to provide an interpreter. It is also helpful to bring along a second set of ears: your Cascade Companion Care caregiver can take notes on what is covered and any important changes in instructions. At times, they can also advocate for you if your concerns are not being addressed.
*Ask for help. A visit to the doctor can mean waiting in a waiting room with sick people, stepping on a scale, getting on a exam table, changing clothes, going for tests in another part of the clinic, hearing what the doctor and nurse are saying, and other activities that may be challenging. Do not hesitate to express your needs for assistance in anything you may be asked to do!
*Ask for simple, non-medical language for any terms you do not understand. Some questions, such as “What is a hematoma?”, can be addressed quickly. Others may require an information sheet or brochure that will more fully explain your condition. Be open to receiving the information you need in more than one form.
*Think of your doctor as part of your total health care team. Other members may be nurses, therapists, hospice personnel, lab technicians, radiologists, and specialists. Your doctor is the focal point of this team. Be sure your doctor knows all of the people who comprise your team, and ask for clear communication between all the providers who care for you.
*Take advantage of special programs offered to improve communication. Some insurance plans provide for consulting nurses who can be reached 24 hours a day. These RN’s can help you decide when an office visit is necessary, and can give immediate help for some problems. In addition, some providers utilize contact persons who manage coordination of care for the primary care doctor. The Everett Clinic, for example, has a Partners program that assigns a nurse to persons with complex health needs. Your “Partner” is available by phone to answer questions right away, to suggest when a visit is needed, to coordinate a plan of care with all team members, and to pave the way for urgent appointments. Ask your provider if they offer a similar service.
*You are more than a body. It is appropriate to ask your doctor questions about decisions, values, feelings, life changes, the affordability of treatment, and other issues that may affect your health outcomes.
*Ask questions about medications, especially if you may have difficulty with taking them as directed, e.g. swallowing a large capsule. Ask about side effects, generics, discount programs, and alternative treatments. Ask for large print instructions and easy open containers.
*Don’t forget to ask about prevention! Many conditions can be avoided or dramatically improved with lifestyle changes. Be honest with the doctor about your current habits (sex, sleep, exercise, nutrition, alcohol or tobacco use, etc) so any factors contributing to disease can be considered.
*When you return home, discuss your visit with your Cascade Companion Care caregiver or family member and make a plan for following up on any new instructions.
To good health!