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Four Tips: Making the most of your next doctor’s appointment

Do you love your doctor, but hate having to go to doctor appointments? We schedule them out of necessity, duty, or habit, but do you really get what you need from these precious face-to-face interactions with your most trusted health adviser?

If you find yourself regularly walking away scratching your head and saying “what just happened?” then your doctor’s appointments are probably not as effective as they should be.

Here are 4 quick topics and tips (PLUS a free downloadable appointment prep questionnaire!) to make your next medical meeting productive and meaningful to you.

Prepared: Make the most of your 15-minutes

When you don’t feel well or are plagued by annoying, or life limiting illness or injury you don’t want 15 minutes of fame. However, 15 minutes seems to be the golden amount reported by research as the average length of a doctor’s appointment. Some research varies, and some doctors give more — and others — give a lot less.

No matter how much time your physician can give you, it’s critical to accomplishing your goals that you take some time to prepare. It doesn’t have to take long; just 5-10 minutes. Even if your appointment is for something simple — like a sty in your eye (I have an appointment around one of these today), they are invaluable minutes well invested.

Tip: Schedule your prep session for your appointment at the same time when you mark your doctor’s appointment in your calendar. Then you won’t forget to prepare.

Concise: Focus on your top 1-2 priorities max

After your arrive, check in, sit in the waiting room, sit in the exam room (after enduring the weigh-in), the first thing your physician wants to know when you are together is you chief complaint. It’s the medical term for “why are you here today?”

Physicians are, at their core, problem solvers and they want to solve your main problem today. So, it is essential that you are clear about what you need to get out of this appointment and what’s most important to be solved in this appointment.

Tip: When you prepare for your appointment, write down the specific issues that you are having. These would include your symptoms and what’s bothering you the MOST. If you have too many issues that are unrelated, you may need more than one appointment.

Persistent: Ensure you understand

In my estimation, the fear of asking a dumb question is the top reason why patients walk away from appointments unclear about what they heard and what they are supposed to do. To battle this fear, we need a fresh mindset. Think about these statements and reflect on how you feel as you read them.

  • Having my medical needs met are more important than appearing smart to my doctor.
  • I am paying for his/her time and expertise and he/she has a responsibility to ensure I understand.
  • I deserve to learn from my doctor so that I get smarter as my problems are addressed.
  • I can’t partner with my doctor, and help myself be healthier, if I have unanswered questions.
  • I won’t leave here, today, until I feel confident about how we are going to address my problem as well as what my doctor is going to do and what I need to do.

Tip: If you are concerned that you won’t be able to remember the conversation, take a note pad and don’t be embarrassed to say “Let me write that down so I remember.” Trust me, doctor’s know that you forget half of what they tell you by the time you get to your car.

If you are concerned about being able to listen to the doctor and writing things down at the same time, or appearing rude to the doctor, consider bringing a friend to take notes or ask the doctor if you can tape record the session so you can refer to it later.

Clear: Recap next steps and responsibilities

Related to the last point, if you understand the conversation and information that you, and your physician, have exchanged through the appointment, it is important to walk away with a clear set of actions that you and your physician are going to take next.

Tip: Write down two lists in your notes. What is the doctor going to do next? What am I supposed to do next?

Ask for just a moment to recap both lists of next steps to ensure that you are clear. Don’t worry. The doctor will be impressed that you care enough and are careful enough to be sure you understand. Then, state back to the doctor what you are supposed to do next — as the patient — and what you heard that the physician will do next.

You also want to confirm if you are to take anything with you or wait for anything at the front desk, for example, a medication sample, educational material handouts, instructions for treatment, a prescription for lab tests, etc.

Or, you can just print out our free downloadable appointment prep questionnaire! In fact, share this article with a friend so that they can download the document too.

Got a tip for how you prepare for and handle your doctor’s appointments? Join our community and share your ideas below.


About @susanharkema

Susan is the creator of MyHealthVoice.com, built upon her 20+ years in healthcare and her experiences as a caregiver and patient. She is a writer, speaker and advocate for people living with chronic or life limiting illness as well as their family and professional caregivers. Learn more - www.myhealthvoice/susanharkema/.

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