Five Ways to Empower Yourself Before a Doctor Visit
It’s almost the end of the year, which means that many of us are scrambling to get those annual check-ups in before benefits change. However, if you plan on bringing a laundry list of what’s bothering you to your next doctor visit, think again.
The new reality of health care in the U.S.
The days are over when patients could expect to endlessly chat with their physician about what ails them during a typical doctor visit (you’ll only find that vignette on reruns of “Dr. Welby”). Today there is a shortage of primary care physicians, and their time is limited. By most physician protocols, and under most employer-provided health plans, the patient only has two problems to discuss during their visit, which is timed to last no more than 15 minutes (and only 7 minutes for Medicare patients).
To ensure you maximize those precious minutes, it pays to think like your busy practitioner. Learn to use this sequence, which doctors themselves use, to organize your thoughts: “O-P-Q-R-S-T”: Pain (“Where does it hurt?), Quality (“What does it feel like?”), Radiation (“Does it move anywhere?”), Scale (“How bad is it? How much does it affect you?”), Timing (“When did it start? How long does it last? Does it come and go? Is it gradual or sudden in onset? What makes it better or worse?”), and Other (“Any other symptoms?”).
During your next visit, your self-assigned role is to convey your information as quickly and accurately as possible, so that your doctor can “triage” and formulate a plan of action. Here are five steps to get the most out of your next doctor’s visit.
1. A medical journal or personal health record (pHr) is a fast way to remember details. Write down new medicines and their doses. For children, keep your own record of immunizations or shots that your child received. Record symptoms, list medications taken including prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal medicines; list allergies to any medicines or foods and, very importantly, list all of your doctors or health professionals along with their specialty. Make sure your primary physician and your specialists know each other. In your medical journal, make sure the doctor gives you your vital numbers and lab results. Write them down, weight, height, blood pressure, and other important test and lab results.
2. Be concise. Be on time. Be dressed and ready to strip down quickly. Don’t bring a long list of complaints and ramble on. If you get 10 minutes total to talk with your practitioner, make sure you talk about your top one or two concerns. Start with those things, and let your doctor explore the related symptoms.
3. Don’t self-diagnose. Your job is to tell your doctor what is bothering you. Your doctor’s job is to order tests, analyze them and examine you in person.
4. Don’t “demand” medications because the funny ad on TV convinced you to use it. If you feel you really need a particular medication (especially pain medication) for a particular reason then explain why. Most practitioners are willing to discuss your options.
5. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions and never leave the office until you clearly understand any treatment plans provided to you. If you do not understand something, speak up and ask the doctor to explain it, and make notes in your medical journal! After all, you are paying the bills.
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