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You need to talk with your doctor to get the most out of your visit. Even though your doctor has a lot of specialized training, he can’t know how you feel, what you are experiencing, or what is bothering you without your help. As a caregiver or a patient, it’s important to communicate effectively with the doctors you see. Here are some tips to help you out with this vital activity.
One key to coordination of care is to make sure all the doctors you see are on the same page. They may not, however, all be on the same electronic medical record system. To help them out, you should keep a medication list.
Doctors want to know:
–The drug name;
–The dose of the medication (usually in mg);
–How often you take it;
–Who prescribes it.
This list needs to be updated if you stop using a medication or start using a new medication.
Armed with your medication list, you can be sure your doctor has a more complete set of data to figure out why you just developed a rash, for example, or the sweats. The doctor may want to get in touch with your other doctors if he thinks they will need to know what is going on with you.
A word to the wise: If you think a medication is giving you a problem, call your doctor and ask what to do. Don’t just stop taking it. Some medications have withdrawal effects that can hurt you if you suddenly stop taking them. They are, after all, actively changing the way your body works. The body may not adjust well to certain sudden changes without a plan.
Questions for the doctor
The doctor will have a set of questions for you to screen for a number of problems. Answer as honestly as you know how so he can get a good picture of what is going on. The doctor will be checking on things you had in the past, especially at the last visit. Take time to write down the news about your foot pain that brought you in last time, or whatever it was, and how it turned out.
If you have seen other doctors since your last visit with this one, tell him about what concerns you were seeing the others for. This helps him understand better what complex issues you may have.
Have your own questions written down for your appointment. It’s easy to forget what you want to ask when you get hit with all the questions the doctor has. But this visit is supposed to be about you. If you can, please keep it to 3-4 complaints at most.
Once the doctor is caught up, let him know about the things you’ve noticed bothering you recently. Ask him what to do about each thing, and give him time to think about what to tell you. He may have to consult your record or some reference material before he tells you anything. Try not to let this frustrate you. He’s doing highly technical work and wants to get it right for you.
When the doctor comes up with a recommendation for how to deal with your problems, and you’re not sure of something, ask him to clarify for you. Sometimes doctors fall back into “medicalese,” and forget you don’t speak that. Be sure you understand what he is asking you to do and why. If you know, you will feel better about doing it and not just go through the motions or blow it off.
Bring something to write down what you’re told, once you understand it. Review it point by point with the doctor so neither of you forgets something important. You may be given a visit summary but it might not have everything you and your doctor discussed. They vary.
Doctors are only human
Why go to all this bother? Doctors are highly educated pros. They have computerized records. What’s the problem here?
The sad reality is that medical records programs are only as good as what’s loaded into them. They may not have your entire history. Usually they go back to when the program was installed at the doctor’s clinic, plus a bit. So if this clinic got the new medical record system in 2010, your appendectomy in 1984 is not going to be there, trust me.
And the doctor is flying all the time he’s at work. He has you and a crowd of others to see, insurance companies to call, prescriptions to write, and all sorts of other activities going on. So he may not remember at all what you and he talked about last time, at least till he checks last visit’s note. You are going to be the expert witness of that visit. Go ahead and remind him.
You are also the expert on how you feel, how your body works, and what is going on in your life. If the pain medication helped, say so. If not, what was wrong with its performance? Try to go beyond the basic idea that you still hurt. Was it changed at all or did the medication make you sick or what? The more the doctor knows, the better he can help.
Sometimes a doctor runs out of solutions, or finds himself in over his head. If that happens, he usually makes a referral to a specialist. If your doctor admits to not knowing, be glad he’s at least honest.
Speaking of being honest, don’t be shy about “personal” things that you would normally keep private. Your doctor isn’t being nosy or perverted; bodily functions are his concern. If you have a pain in a private area, or you are having problems in the bathroom eliminating, the doctor ought to know.
The doctor may also ask questions about things like guns in the house, domestic violence, or mental health issues. These are to screen for dangers to you and to understand if you are up against something you ordinarily would not talk about. He will not gossip about this. It’s protected information under Federal law, just like anything else you say to him.
Talk with your doctor
Doctors are highly trained professionals but they are only human, just like you. They’re good at applying knowledge of science to fixing what’s wrong with you. But to really do well, they need your help to tell them exactly what is going on. Don’t be in awe of doctors, though respect is nice. Get them on your team and make sure they know what they need to know to do a good job for you.
What do you find helpful for talking with your doctor?