Get the Most out of your Medical Visit
Open and accurate communication is so important to good quality patient care. There are many reasons why you should spend a little bit of time up front to better your health care in the long run. Here a few:
1. Puts you in the drivers seat. Research shows, those that take charge of their health care do better.
2. What you remember changes over time. You may not remember important details about doctor's visit or how the treatment affected you between visits. This is especially try if you have hearing problems, multiple medical problems, are overwhelmed, grieving, frightened or have memory difficulties.
3. Treatment is complex. It can be hard to remember everything you have tried, are doing now or would like to change for the future.
4. Your doctor does not know everything about you. Dont assume that your doctor can read your mind, understand what is most important to you or remember every treatment that you have tried and when. Even if this information is written in the chart, it can be buried somewhere in the notes and not easy to find.
4. Communication is difficult. Speech, memory, anxiety, and writing problems are just a few of the ways communication is affected with Parkinson's disease.
5. Enhance success of therapy. Having goals for a doctor's visit helps prioritize your time.
6. Maximizes time. Given today's medical system your doctor may only have 10 to 20 minutes to spend with you. You can optimize this time or waste it on gathering data and other distractions.
The following steps are provided to help optimize your time and enhance communication with your doctor or health care team (click here
for a printed copy).
Step 1: Plan ahead for your doctor's visit
Keep a dedicated notebook for your doctor visits. A simple 3 ring binder will work. You can then store your information, forms and appointment results in one convenient place.
Write down your questions before your visit – sometimes you may forget to ask important questions during your doctor's appointment. Writing them down in a notebook helps remind you to ask when talking with your doctor. Remember to prioritize your questions as you may not have the time to address all in one visit. Allowing space to write answers will enable you to look back at a later time to refresh your memory after the appointment. Caregiver questions are also important and should be included. You can also keep a record of any changes your doctor makes to your treatment for quick reference.
Set goals for your visit - This helps you set priorities for your visit and take charge of your goals so that you get your needs met.
Bring information (store in your health care book) about your medical background:
- Completed office visit questionnaire (printable version if your doctor does not have one)
- List of current medications and side effects if any
- Prior treatments and side effects if any
- Copies of previous labs, brain MRIs or CT Scans
- Medical notes and addresses of previous doctors
- Advanced directives, Power of Attorney
Step 2: Arrive Early, Ask Questions, Optimize your Time
Arrive at least 30 minutes earlier than your appointment to complete patient questionnaire forms. These forms have questions that your doctor feels are important for your visit, especially questions about your medications. Copy this form for your use if your doctor does not use one. Medication is the main treatment for many neurological disorders. Medication accuracy can greatly affect how well your doctor can manage or control your symptoms. Always bring a list of your current medications to each appointment.
Completing patient questionnaire forms will:
- provide accurate information for your doctor.
- provides for added communication between you and your doctor.
- provide information that is part of your permanent medical record.
- allow your doctor more time to spend talking instead of writing.
- reduce errors (see Reduce Your Medical Errors for more helpful tips) that may occur from one visit to the next.
Ask questions and learn about your condition. Important questions to ask include:
- How does my diagnosis impact my independence or quality of life?
- Do I need medication and if so, how long will I need to take it?
- What are the side effects of the medication?
- What symptoms or side effects should be reported immediately?
- How often should I make appointments?
- Where can I find more information about my diagnosis?
Optimize time with your doctor = equals more time to listen and answer your concerns and questions. Planning ahead, arriving early and completing forms accurately will save time for you and your doctor. Begin by asking your doctor what information is needed of you for each visit to help take care of your symptoms. Ask questions that are important early during your appointment; don’t wait until the end. Finally, consider taking the patient questionnaire forms home to fill out just prior to your next visit.
Be realistic. Prioritize your needs. Can your doctor adequately address all 20 items on your list or is it better to prioritize the top 3. This also applies to information you bring in. The internet can be a source of great information but can your doctor read volumes of pages or can you help by summarizes or printing the best page for their use.
Fill out the questionnaire if your doctor uses one (Print general questionnaire
if needed). Avoid statements like "same as last time" or "the doctor knows me."
Another helpful and simple tip is simply to ask your doctor: "What information do you need from me to better treat me?
Step 3: After your doctors visit, keep a record of changes or events that are related to your medical condition.
How often do you leave your doctor’s office trying to remember what just happened? Treatment of neurological disorders can be complicated at times. Bringing along a family member or caregiver to keep track of instructions may help so you can focus on discussing concerns with your doctor. The doctor can only help with issues and concerns that you provide. Try to be an active member of your care. Caregivers can also learn more about your condition if present during medical visits.
Use this checklist to help you with your visits. Remember these steps take work. However, these steps do help you gain the most you can out of your medical visits.
1. Fill out questionnaire if required in advance of appointment. Be complete. Do not use statements like, “no changes”, “same as last visit”, or “the doctor knows what I am on”. Take a blank copy before you leave your appointment.
2. Keep you own list of Medications: to include name, strength, timing, generic or trade. Also include prior medicines that were tried and not effective or caused side effects so that they are not used again.
3. Keep a list of all your treating doctors to include name, address and FAX #.
4. Keep a list of any changes that result from calls to your doctor between appointments.
5. Keep track of medication refill needs before you run out.
6. Keep a list of new medical problems, medicines, or new living arrangements.
7. Finally, ask your doctor what information is important for you to bring to each visit
Remember you, the patient, and your family are essential team members. You will get best results if you work together to improve care with your health care provider.
Author: Sierra Farris, PA-C