The office encounter with a doctor can be a turning point in a person’s life. At 1pm you consider yourself a healthy person – concerned about children, mortgage, or your golf game – but by 2pm, a new diagnosis, disease, or novel problem requires your attention.
What happened between 1pm and 2pm? An appointment with your doctor took place.
During an office visit, you often have several important discussions with your doctor and other health staff. A visit can be a life-changing event, but patients and doctors can do several things to ensure a visit goes smoothly.
Preparing in Advance
For both patient and doctor, it is important to come to the meeting prepared in advance. For the doctor, this means reading the past medical record and becoming familiar with information that may have been forwarded from other physicians. For the patient “being prepared” means coming to the appointment with a clear understanding of the following:
- Purpose of the visit
- What information you want to convey
- What you want to learn
For the office visit to achieve your goals, preparing an organized written list in advance is useful. An organized, written account helps the doctor (and you) so that you do not forget issues of importance and find yourself calling the office later to relay other details. This list should include:
- All current medications and doses
- A summary of past major medical events – by relevance to current visit or listed chronologically
- An outline of the current complaint (What is the exact complaint? When did it start? How often does it occur? Is it ongoing?)
- Any other issues of importance
What to Avoid
It is important to come prepared for your discussion with your doctor, but at the same time, it is also important to avoid certain statements. For example, it is a mistake to begin the office visit by telling the doctor that you need “a different medication to treat angina.” This lets the doctor “off the hook” and presents the busy physician with the opportunity to simply take your word for it, prescribe a new antianginal medication, and be done with the visit. The patient should aim to describe the symptom or complaint in his own words without attaching a medical label or diagnosis. Let the doctor do his own work and figure this out by asking more questions and probing the history for clues.
The patient must also avoid perpetuating possible errors of past doctors. This is especially important when meeting a new doctor for a consultation. A new symptom and/or consultation requires an open mind. With this approach, you engage the doctor to evaluate your unique complaints and circumstances and thereby help assure that you will receive better medical care.