Making the most of your medical appointments

How to get the most out of your medical appointments

Going to the GP can be stressful: it’s difficult to get through on the phone, when you do the receptionist may be abrupt, almost to the point of rudeness and getting an appointment within a reasonable timeframe can be tricky. Then when you get there you only have a 10-minute window to explain your problem, be examined, agree a plan, and ask any follow up questions. It’s not surprising that some patients can feel agitated, there’s a lot to get through in a very short time.

It's essential to maintain a good relationship with your healthcare team. Improving communication with the doctor will help you get the most out of the brief interaction. Several studies have demonstrated that good doctor-patient communication resulted in lower blood sugar levels in diabetic patients and lower blood pressure for patients with hypertension. Other studies have found that positive doctor-patient visits result in reduced pain for patients with cancer and other illnesses.

Here are some ways you can take charge at each stage of your visit to help you make the most of your time with your doctor and help you feel better before you even leave the office.

Before the appointment – planning ahead

  • If you think you’ll need more time, try to book a ‘double appointment’ but be prepared to justify why the extra time is needed. If a double appointment is not available, pick the most important things to discuss this time round and arrange another appointment later to discuss the other matters.
  • Write down the points you want to raise, especially if you find it difficult to explain things on the spot
  • Rehearse what you want to say and keep it clear and jargon free. Write down your symptoms and tell it like it is.
  • Do your own research, bring any news features/stories or research that you have any questions about. Thanks to the internet, many people have the chance to read up on subjects before visiting their doctor. But be wary of appearing to lecture your doctor, though
  • Recruit a friend or a relative to go with you. Researchers have found that when patients had someone to help them communicate with their doctors, they were 50 percent more likely to be satisfied with their doctor’s ability to give information and 30 percent more likely to be satisfied with their doctor’s interpersonal skills.
  • Gather data before you go– weight, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, date of your last period, last seizure or migraine, details of possible allergies can all add valuable information if they relate to the problem you want to discuss. if what you want to discuss is relevant to your blood glucose control, make sure you have a blood test taken at least two weeks before your appointment. Bring your blood glucose meter and results record with you, if you test. If you think you may have a urine infection, bring a urine sample along

During the appointment

  • If there is more than one issue to raise, tell your doctor that you’ve made a list of things you’d like to address and ask if it’s okay if you go over it with him. Explain that you'd like some help deciding which problems are most important to tackle at this visit. This way, if there is not time to discuss all points, your doctor will likely be more willing to arrange a follow up appointment to address the remaining points.
  • Be honest and clear - Tell it like it is. It can be intimidating to be examined, but it’s important to talk to your doctor during your visit so they can make a well-informed decision about your care. This is when having a friend or family member in the room can help.
  • Listen actively – ask questions, give feedback and ask for clarification if you're unsure of anything.
  • Don’t be shy. Ask for a chaperone for intimate examinations, if necessary but don’t apologise for having an intimate problem. The doctor has seen it all before.
  • Be prepared to show the body part that you’re concerned with. It’s difficult for the doctor to access the problem if he can’t physically access the body part
  • Make notes to help you remember what has been said. If you’ve brought a friend with you, be sure to ask that he or she write down your doctor’s instructions. If you’re on your own, it’s okay to bring a small recording device so that you can review your discussions later, just be sure to ask the doctor if it’s OK to record before you switch it on.
  • Don't leave before you really understand your doctor’s instructions and the reasoning behind their decisions. Research shows only 15 percent of patients fully understand what their doctors tell them, and that 50 percent leave their doctor’s offices uncertain of what they need to do to take care of themselves.
  • Check you've covered your list. This is also the time you should ask your doctor to make a note of any problems you weren’t able to discuss. Making a written record, apparently, makes it more likely that you’ll get your concerns addressed by the next visit.

After the appointment

  • review what’s been said and agreed
  • make a note of anything you need to do before your next appointment.

For those with diabetes, whether you have just been diagnosed or had it for some time it is important that you get the right support for managing the condition. This will help to ensure that your diabetes, blood pressure and blood fats are all kept in check, as well as detecting any early signs of complications so that they can be caught and treated successfully.

Your diabetes team will monitor your diabetes control, and you should have a full diabetes check at least once a year. This check is referred to as your annual diabetes review and is an ideal time to have your care planning review. Care planning is a process that should be available to all people with diabetes.

Care planning:

  • allows you to be more involved in decisions about how your diabetes is managed
  • gives you a say in every aspect of the care you get
  • helps you to work towards goals that are personal to you
  • helps you to work in partnership with your diabetes team.
  • The care planning appointment is a chance to talk about the results of your annual diabetes checks (these are included as part of the15 healthcare essentials) with your healthcare professional, talk about your experiences and discuss how you feel, set goals, and create an action plan to help you manage your diabetes.
  • Your healthcare professional can help you to understand the results of your diabetes checks, provide you with information and advice, talk about different options – for example, different types of medication available to you – and refer or signpost you to support in your local area.
  • A care plan is a written document of all these discussions, goals and actions.