Optimize Your Doctors Appointments

Make the most of every doctor visit.

Before your appointment, prepare a list of questions for your doctor:

  • Give yourself time to prepare the questions. Start as soon as you have made the appointment. If you are being proactive and learning about your case, questions will naturally pop into your head. 
  • Put your questions on the top page of a legal pad so they will be easy to refer to during your appointment. Put your doctor’s name and the appointment date on the first line of that first page.
  • If you have multiple appointments with multiple doctors coming up, use a different legal pad for each doctor so you can start building q’s for each of them.  
  • Number your questions. These appointments are stressful and go very quickly. Be organized, or you will forget to ask all that you want to ask.  

During the appointment, listen to your doctor's answers carefully. Write down the replies.

  • Your questions are all on the top page of your legal pad. Write the doctor’s answers on the subsequent pages. Circle, box, or underline important points.
  • Remember, under this much stress, you won’t recall information well! I recommend you take notes during your doctor’s visit or phone call. Writing the answers down will calm your brain, reinforce your processing skills, and help you ask follow-up questions and learn.  
  • When given bad news during a doctor visit, writing the information down helps steady me. I focus on writing what the doctor says, which allows me to absorb it better than if I were looking at the doctor, brain shattered from the news. Looking down as I write also gives me a moment to catch my breath “alone” without eye contact. It helps me make the most of the rest of the visit, with my brain present and my proactive mind engaged. 
  • If you question your note-taking skills, have a second person in the room taking notes.
  • You can ask the doctor for permission to record the visit, but I still recommend you take notes during the appointment. Waiting to take notes from the recording puts more on your to-do list, which is already overwhelming. When I take notes during the visit, I can process the info better, ask follow-up questions, and leave with the serenity and freedom that it is all finished and organized.  
  • Actively engage with your doctor’s answers:
    • Listen to learn, but also listen to determine if you understand and agree with the treatment suggestions.
    • Your doctors are intelligent, caring people, but you don’t want to have any “Doctors are gods” idolizing that shuts down your thought processes. Don’t leave your brain at the door just because you are scared.
    • Listen to make sure your doctor is on top of the newest research. If you suspect your doctor may not be on top of the latest treatment findings, then I recommend you get another more expert medical opinion.   
    • Having a “nice” doctor is a plus, but you need to ensure you get the best care possible when you have a difficult diagnosis. Many “nice” doctors are cutting edge, but some are not. I would rather have the genius who doesn’t have an excellent bedside manner than the sweetie whose knowledge of my disease is less stellar.

Make sure you understand the testing or treatment recommendations your doctor suggests.

  1. “Why are you recommending this for me? “
  2. “How will the information derived from this test change your treatment recommendations?”
  3. “What are other options for me? Are there less invasive options?”
  4. “What are the risks of doing this or not doing this?”
  5. “How much time do I have to research this before I need to make a decision and why?”  

 

A warm thank you to Dr. Eric Edell of Mayo Clinic Rochester for help with this questions list.

After the appointment:

  • Binder all papers immediately. I recommend you staple your handwritten notes from that appointment and put them into the appropriate place in your binder before you leave your doctor’s office. Ask to borrow the receptionist’s stapler and hole punch if needed.  
  • Leave that office with as much peace as you can. Be proud of yourself for staying on top of it!