The cost of your healthcare, your valuable time and all the things, is incredibly important. And you want to leave your physician’s office with NO regrets. Or thinking, MAN, I forgot to ask this, or I forgot to mention this.
And here is the thing, if you did. Move on, schedule a follow up appointment. Your physician will really appreciate a scheduled appointment so they can be reimbursed for their time AND will be more willing to take the time and answer your questions knowing that their time is being accounted for.
I mean, we have all had experiences with lawyers that literally bill you for every second you spend on the phone with them, every email etc. I mean when you call them, you want to vomit everything in an instant so your bill isn’t higher. Anyone else been there?!
Now, I know medicine is considered a position of public service and frankly isn’t a good look if we nickel and dimed our patients. But the reality is that medicine is a business, our healthcare system is changing in ways that aren’t good, physicians are losing control of their time and being told by hospital administrators and insurance companies how to practice medicine. And this change in healthcare is often at the expense of the patient. So a way to “game” the system so to speak is schedule a follow up appointment with your physician, even if it’s just to get unanswered questions answered. Totally ok. And with virtual appointments readily available, there should be no excuse! And certainly NO regrets!
Preparing for your doctor’s appointment
So just taking a step back in actually preparing for your visit, you want to hone in on what is your main question or concern that you want addressed.
Ideally, each visit should be an individual concern. Not a laundry list of issues that you waited years to get addressed in a short visit. I know some of y’all are like that! I have been guilty too, but it really helps no one.
You have to approach each visit with the expectation of 1-2 concerns being addressed at a visit so then you aren’t left feeling disappointed or unheard. Plus it REALLY helps your physician by staying focused. Anything more than that, and that’s what follow up visits are for.
If you know of some questions you want to ask ahead of time, have them written down, so you don’t forget. It’s so easy to get distracted or forget…. you just don’t want to find yourself feeling like you got derailed and feel confused the second you walk out the door.
On the same token, write down notes/key points that your physician mentions so you remember what they said. Sort of your “to-do” list.
Or better yet, bringing a friend or family member to your visits is always a good idea. They can be your ears and memory especially for serious medical conditions in which you want someone to help advocate and support you during the process. It’s unbelievable sometimes the difference between what is “said ” in a physician’s visit vs what is “heard” – two sets of ears are 100% better than 1. Trust me on this one.
Alway have your personal and family history ready
Ok, so this one is important. Try to get your old medical records faxed in or sent to your physician for review prior to your appointment. Or have them in hand for the visit. Showing up empty handed if you have a complicated medical history does no one any good. Our healthcare system is disjointed and systems often don’t communicate with one another, so help yourself by being your own record keeper.
And lastly, have important family history ready even when you think it’s not important. And here’s an example of this. Some patients will not tell me a family history of breast cancer when they are seeing me because they think all I care about is colon cancer. When actually it all matters. There are some colon cancers that are related to breast cancer or stomach cancers related to breast cancer that could completely change my recommendations if I knew more history. So, the lesson here is don’t assume family history isn’t important.
So, who’s in the white coat?!
Well, in this case, this guy is from the show Schitt’s Creek. Which was hilarious BTW. But he is a veterinarian. So, this just goes to show that lots of people call themselves doctors. But in the medical setting, the general assumption is that a doctor = physician for humans.
However, doctor in clinical settings is sometimes used loosely, so be aware. We all know of doctors of nursing practice among others, so just know that exists.
When you schedule an appointment, always ask who you are going to be seeing. Typically, it’s going to be one of 3 options: PA (physician assistant), Nurse Practitioner (NP), or a physician/medical doctor. One caveat is if you are at a teaching hospital, it may be medical students or physicians in training – but in all those cases they are supervised by practicing physicians.
One thing to note is that depending on where you live, physician assistants and/or nurse practitioners could be practicing medicine independently which is just something to be mindful of. PAs and nurse practitioners are excellent members to a care team but they are in the same crazy healthcare system that may be asking them to do things they aren’t comfortable with or even trained for.
Always ask who’s in the room
I myself have been to appointments as a patient where the person entering the exam room doesn’t introduce themselves and I don’t even know who they are. And honestly, sometimes I didn’t even ask to confirm who they were, but I should have! If it’s happened to me, I am sure, it’s happened to you.
Never be afraid to ask, ”I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name”.
And here is a good one, if you requested to see a physician or specific person, but then someone else shows up, you have every right to cancel that appointment or request to see someone else. Don’t think that you are being difficult – you aren’t. You are advocating for yourself and that’s it.
Finding the medical professional for your care is kinda like finding your life partner. It takes time, and you might have to check out a few prospects before you settle. This is especially important if you have a chronic medical condition, because then you are in this relationship for the long haul. At least make it enjoyable.
You want someone that can communicate, relate to you in some way, can empathize with you, and advocate for you. They don’t need to be the smartest person or big time researcher in the medical condition you have. I gotta tell you probably one of the most important traits of a good healthcare professional is someone that is available and can say they don’t know when they don’t, BUT is willing to look things up for you or connect you with a specialist when you need it.
Questions to always ask at a doctor’s appointment
So these are common questions that I think you should always ask your doctor during your visit. It can sometimes feel easier to just go along with things instead of asking questions, but don’t.
- Would you recommend this if I was your family member/sister/brother/wife, etc?
- That question is powerful. It may cause your doctor to possibly change their recommendation for you and they can tell you why. Sometimes, we tell patients what the “guidelines” are when sometimes we wouldn’t do what the guidelines say.
- If you don’t understand something, ask to get clarification. Healthcare lingo is literally a different language. And I get it, whenever I look at a legal document, I literally feel stupid and confused and thinking, why can’t lawyers just write contracts in plain english so people can just understand. Healthcare is no different.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or an even better way to do this is to say, “ I want to repeat what you just told me to make sure I understand.” And then in your own words, repeat what your physician just told you because they will correct you if you misunderstood.
- What are the pros/cons? Or risks/benefits?
- And never leave a visit knowing “What’s next”? Or asking “When do I need to schedule a follow up visit?
- Lastly, ask what resources are out there to learn more about your medical diagnosis. There are a ton of resources online, organizations, non-profits, or self help groups and your physician can point you in the right direction. You want to try and avoid blogs or FB groups/communities for medical information; they can be awesome in many ways but can also be overwhelming or riddled with false information and gimmicks.
Get a 2nd Opinion
Whenever there is doubt with your experience, get a second opinion. It doesn’t have to be a breakup with your physician, but sometimes it can also be validation for you and your physician that you are on the right path. If you broach the subject by just saying that you want to seek a second opinion upfront, there shouldn’t be hard feelings and you can then decide how you want to move forward.