How to Get the Most out of Your Doctor’s Appointment

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

In my last column, I wrote about using a patient checklist to organize your thoughts and questions before going to the doctor. Now it's time to put that checklist to work and get the most out of your doctor's appointment. 

The process of finding and choosing a physician is, in some respects, comparable to the process of making a decision about investing in a particular stock or mutual fund. After all, you would not invest your hard-earned money in a stock without first doing research about the company’s past performance, current financial status, and projected future earnings. You’d spend a considerable amount of time and energy doing research before investing.

The same general principle applies to the process of finding and choosing a physician. Finding the right medical team requires a considerable investment in terms of both time and energy, but the potential payoff can be well worth it. After all, what is more important than your health and well-being?

It’s appointment day with my healthcare provider. I have prepared my checklist, got myself dressed enough to leave the house, put on my flip flops, and am ready to go. Most of my provider’s offices are at least one hour away from my house. I pack the car with comforts like pillows, blanket, and bottled water. The better we are prepared, the better our appointments will go.

Especially for new patients, be ready to answer a series of questions such as exactly where does it hurt? Have you had similar pain in the past? Is the pain sharp, dull, aching, burning, or does it have some other characteristic? Is the pain constant or does it come and go?

What makes the pain better? What makes the pain worse? Are you able to sleep through the night or does the pain keep you awake? How much does pain interrupt your daily activities, such as bathing, eating, dressing, and getting around?

How often does the pain interfere with your ability to think clearly, your appetite, energy, mood, or relationships with other people? How many days over the past week have you been unable to do what you want because of your pain? Is there an obvious reason for the pain, such as a sprained ankle or an arthritic joint? 

For longtime patients, or as providers say “thick case file” patients, be ready to give your doctor an update on any changes since your last visit and to ask questions of your own. This medication is not helping anymore, what else is there? Are there any new options for non-drug treatments? Do you recommend any specific diet changes?

Remember to leave the checklist with the doctor to put in your records, so if something comes up they can refer to it and better remember what you may need if an emergency comes up. Keep in mind that doctors have hundreds or even thousands of patients, so they sometimes need reminders. It does not mean that they do not care about you. Taking control of your healthcare team will facilitate communication, better treatment, and quality pain care.

Be sure that you are keeping all of your healthcare providers abreast of your condition, goals, progress and setbacks. This team includes all doctors (primary, neurologist, pain management and other specialties), physical therapists and caregivers.

Waits are getting longer and longer at my providers' offices. This past year doctors have kept me waiting at least 20 minutes. My heart doctor was over 2 hours late one time. That’s another reason to be totally prepared so you can get the best of your 10 or 15 minutes with the provider. It is important that we stay on track and focused at doctor appointments.

Many times I forget what the doctor even told me to do within five minutes of leaving the office. What I do to combat this is bring someone with me when possible to take notes. If there is no one who can come with me, I record the conversation. When I get home I can turn to my notes or caregiver to remember all of the new directions, goals and plans I should be working on between appointments.

A doctor’s appointment for me is really draining; the drive, waiting in the office, poking, testing, blood draws, etc. By the time I get home I have to rest. Since my notes are done I don’t have to worry about forgetting what to do.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.