I’m excited to have Dr. Marta Becker with us, as she shares her four top tips on how to prepare for a medical appointment. She is an ENT specialist with Jefferson-Abington Health from Philadelphia, PA.
“Everybody wants to get in and out of their doctor’s office as quickly as possible, but not miss out on any important information,” said Becker. “Many doctors are also trying to keep to their schedules better than they have in the past to get everyone out of the building as quickly and safely as possible. These tips will help patients not forget any important information while informing their doctors of everything going on in their lives. From chronic pain to illness triggers, having all the information readily available will help your physician more effectively treat what’s ailing you.”
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When Your Calendar is Packed with Medical Appointments
If you live with a chronic condition, chances are that your calendar is packed with medical appointments with various doctors and specialists.
Living with chronic illness is like a full-time job with unpredictable hours. It can be overwhelming to keep up with all the symptoms, medication side effects, fluctuations in diet, mood and more.
Going for a Medical Appointment in a Post-Pandemic World
COVID-19 has changed much of our everyday lives and how we go about doing everything. Most people try to get in and out of stores and restaurants quickly, for fear of catching the virus. This is especially true for people with chronic conditions who are more susceptible to infections.
The pandemic has also impacted doctor and hospital visits. Doctors’ schedules are often jam-packed as they clear a backlog of patients. Medical appointment times are also cut short, so that doctors can see more patients.
Those who live with chronic pain and illness have been affected the most. Yet, it is they who need most of their doctors’ time, due to the complexity of their illnesses.
Why It’s Important to Describe Health Issues Accurately
The probability of extending your medical appointment time is slim. The need to convey your health issues to your doctor with greater accuracy becomes an urgent one.
This is especially true if the pain or symptoms are ‘invisible’. To be able to do so can help to improve your quality of care, and thus your quality of life.
This consists of paying attention to details, and polishing communication skills. Which can be awfully hard with brain fog, pain and fatigue wreaking havoc on the mind and body.
Fortunately, it is still possible to get important information across to your doctor despite these barriers. Organization and consistency are skills that we can all hone. They are also key to walking away from your medical appointment knowing that you’ve done your best.
While there may not be a cure, your doctor will be better equipped to dispensing medical advice, or modifying your treatment plan. This in turn can only benefit you.
4 Top Tips on How to Prepare for a Medical Appointment
1. Organize your medical story like a reporter: What? When? Why? How?
- What is the chief complaint of your health issue, and what are the related complaints? Start here.
- When exactly did it first start? Did it resolve, recur or fluctuate at all?
- Why? You may not know why, but what else was going on at the beginning? Do you know what the trigger(s) were? Was there an illness going around, was it a stressful period, or were you exposed to something?
- How? What qualities does the problem have: intense, lingering or a nuisance? Are other symptoms associated with it, and do they come and go at the same time? What makes it better or worse: medications, other treatments, sleep, exercise, nothing?
2. Organize your data
- Know and list down your medications in detail: Names, doses, what time you take them, etc. Bring a list if necessary.
- Know and compile your medical history. Do include chronic diagnoses such as high blood pressure or depression. Also include operations you may have had such as a heart surgery. List down any medical incidents that have happened in the past, such as fractures or ruptures.
- Have copies of your test results on hand: Laboratory tests, x-rays, previous procedure reports, reports from providers like physical therapists, etc.
- If you have a medical journal where you note down your symptoms, print a summary. (More on this below.)
Often there is a portal that you can print these test results from. Don’t assume that the medical provider you will be seeing will have access.
3. Set a reasonable agenda ahead of time and lead with it during your medical appointment
- Let the provider know what you want to discuss in a few short sentences. Do this right at the beginning of the medical appointment.
- Try to stay focused on the problem(s) at hand.
- Inconveniently, the time allocated for most medical appointments is fixed, even if a patient’s issues are more complex than usual. Be open to this.
4. How an app like ‘Journal My Health’ can help
Symptom tracking to see patterns and find potential triggers.
With a digital journaling app, you can keep track of when your symptom(s) started and how it/they change over time.
Graphing function to find correlations.
‘Journal My Health’ has a graphing function, which helps to look for correlations between your symptom(s) and other factors such as exercise, weather, or even interventions such as medications or physical therapy.
You can print graphs that show your health experiences, and take them with you to your medical appointment.
Calendar-based note-taking function.
You can take notes on the calendar-based note app to best describe certain symptoms or experiences.
Store and access all your important medical information easily.
You can also store your medication list, medical history, and notes from previous tests and appointments on the app for future references.
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This list is just a rough guide, and nothing in this review should be taken as medical advice. Always be sure to check with your doctor before you start on any new treatment or protocol.
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She is a partner at the single-specialty practice Berger Henry ENT (Ear Nose Throat) Specialty Group. She has a keen interest in using digital tools to help improve the quality of patient care and life.