When living with chronic illness, especially a rare and life-threatening one, doctor visits are frequent and part of the routine. To be your best advocate, you must prepare for your visits and the following is a checklist that can help. After all, your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important you will have, and you are your own best advocate. You will better advocate for yourself if you are an active participant in every appointment.
It is equally important for you to know, understand and research your illness. Knowledge equals empowerment.
Prior to visit
Take all of your medications, or an up-to-date list of them.
Medication errors are very real and taking this step will help avoid duplicating therapies or leaving off a medication that is important for you.
Also, the nurse or your treating physician is required to document that he or she reviewed all of your current medications with you.
Include over-the-counter medications you take. Be aware of and communicate any refills you may need.
Keep a symptom diary.
Forgetting your symptoms or adapting to slowly progressive symptoms is easy to do. Writing it down (in something like this wellness journal from caringvoice.org) makes your doctor aware of any progression of your illness.
Be as detailed as possible. Don’t simply say, “My back hurts.” Describe the things that make if better or worse, the quality of the pain, any radiation to other areas and its severity.
Know your primary goal.
Know what you want from an appointment when scheduling it. You don’t need to tell a receptionist all of the details, but do communicate whether you have multiple issues to ensure adequate time is allotted for your visit.
Prepare a list of questions.
Doing research and thinking through your needs helps involve you in your own care and is a simple but effective way to reduce anxiety before an appointment.
You might ask questions such as:
Prioritize your list.
This ensures important questions you have are answered. Realize that time constraints may not permit all of your questions to be answered and you may require another visit.
Ask a friend or relative to accompany you.
This can be beneficial for easing anxiety or taking care of extra details like driving. They may provide a second set of ears during your visit.
Take your insurance information.
Medical offices must confirm this information at every appointment. They also may ask for a photo ID and updated contact information.
Try to relax and keep a clear mind so that you can communicate effectively.
Review your list of questions with the doctor.
Pay attention to time. Doctors have a limited window for appointments, and if you still have questions, suggest a follow up. The doctor would be very appreciative.
Listen carefully and take thorough notes. Repeat what the doctor has told you to be sure you understand. Ask for clarification if needed.
If your doctor orders any testing, be sure to ask how the results will be used to manage your illness or guide your therapy. If a test is not going to change anything, then it should not be performed. Similarly, understand the reasoning behind any new prescriptions.
Make sure you understand when you will return for follow up.
If your doctor uses an electronic medical record (most do), get a visit summary.
Immediately after the visit, organize your questions and the doctor’s answers so that you do not forget. If you find there is something you still do not understand, calling or emailing the office is always appropriate.
Follow through and adhere to any new treatment regimen. If you experience any side effects not communicated during your visit, notify your doctor. Also, let your physician know if the medication is not affordable so that he or she might find an alternative or alert you to assistance that may be available.
If your doctor orders any testing, you may want to check with your insurance regarding costs. If it is unaffordable, communicate with your doctor for alternative options.
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