What to do Before Seeing a Doctor

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

When I first started having chronic pain issues, I would go into the doctor’s office and expect them to fix me. But we were talking two different languages and I was getting nowhere fast.

Learning to communicate with your doctors is important in your treatment plan. To do this most effectively, it is important to prepare. Improving your communication skills will lead to better treatment and pain relief.

Before seeing a doctor, try to put your thoughts in order so that you can accurately describe what you are experiencing. On days like the past few weeks, when I am in a full body flare and my pain is very high, my brain starts to mess up my words and even normal conversations become difficult.

Times like these made me realize that I had to get organized and prepare a checklist for my doctor visits. It’s part of becoming your own best advocate.

You can start by answering questions, such as “What did I do since I last saw this doctor?” Review past treatments and ask yourself, “Are they working and what makes the pain better or worse?”

It is good to keep a journal of your activities and pain levels so that you can reflect on these questions. Keeping a journal helps me organize my thoughts and answer these questions more precisely and accurately.

When you keep track of your pain, you gain a better understanding of what causes it, and what activities help or hurt. Prepare a personal history, be brief, and stick to the needed information on your checklist. If there are any concerns about your medications or if you would like to try a different medication you have researched, be able to explain why to your doctor.

Another important step is getting your emotions under control. I have found that if you go into the office showing frustration, anger, anxiety or other negatively perceived emotions, the doctor will be less likely to provide you with useful tools. Providers will focus on your mental status first.

I experienced this phenomenon a lot in the beginning of my search for proper treatment and diagnosis. So many doctors said, “Do you want to get better?” or “It is all in your head, so I can’t help you.” One physician even told me, “Try a different doctor. I am stumped and these symptoms don’t make sense.”

Letting your emotions get the best of you at the doctor’s office will create trouble. If you prepare ahead of time, you may still have these emotions, but you will be better able to keep them under control. You will also have a more productive doctor visit by staying on track and progressing forward with a treatment plan.

Go into the appointment having evaluated yourself and your symptoms. Keep yourself in check, stay calm and positive, and assist the doctor with finding the answers so that the outcome will be more beneficial for you.

Every provider is not the same. One of the most important decisions confronting patients who have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition is choosing a qualified physician who will deliver a high level and quality of medical care. Finding the "best" doctor to manage your condition, however, can be frustrating and time-consuming unless you know what you are looking for and how to go about finding it.

In the beginning of my ordeal, I followed what the doctors told me to the letter, even when I had doubts about their recommendations. My focus was on getting better and I was brought up to believe that doctors knew better and had all the answers. It took me almost three years after my accident to realize that this was a complete myth. Healthcare providers are human too, and they can make mistakes.

When preparing to see a provider it’s important to know your needs so you can be assertive and ready to listen to their instructions while in their office. Try to find a close friend or family member who can attend with you or record the exam on your smartphone so you can refer back to it between appointments.

The day before or on the morning of an appointment, write your questions out. I create a one page checklist that includes my medications/dosages, what I need a refill on, current issues, ongoing issues, past procedures, and questions. I use this checklist to guide my appointment so I cover everything important. I put my thoughts in order so that I get the best care possible.

Another time this comes in handy is in an emergency situation. About a month ago, I had to head to the emergency room after breaking my foot. I was simply walking in my house and walked into a wheel of a suitcase. My bones are fragile and I knew instantly from the sound and the pain that my foot was broken. I grabbed a copy of my latest checklist and headed out the door.

When the nurse came in to take my history and vitals, the pain was overwhelming, but my checklist answered most of her questions. I didn’t have to concentrate on making sure she got the right information, as my brain was clouded with severe pain at the time. That helped her help me. Being prepared is an essential element for proper diagnosis and treatment.

In my next column, I’ll have some tips on what to do during the actual visit to a doctor.

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.