Making the most of your next Doctor’s visit
If you are lucky enough to be fairly healthy, then you may only go to the doctor once a year. Making the most out of your annual physical, or a trip to the doctor can be challenging. There is an emerging trend, known as ePatients, who are empowered, engaged and experts. By learning some of ePatient techniques, you too can improve your help and your relationship with your healthcare providers. Even if your health needs require more frequent visits, there are still some tips and tricks to make sure your questions are answered and your needs met.
Most appointments are less than 15 minutes, so you have a narrow window to ask questions and get advice. When you go to the doctor, for an annual physical or a sick visit, some brief planning will help you maximize your appointment. Here are some simple pre-appointment tips:
- Use your smart phone to take a picture of medication and supplement labels. Your doctor’s office should ask about them at the beginning of your visit. This makes it easy to remember names and dosages.
- If you use a self-tracking device, like a Withings Pulse or Fitbit, orwifi scale, download your a data and summarize the findings. How many days are you active, verses inactive, what is your weight or blood pressure doing over time? Your doctor will care more about patterns and trends than individual data points.
- Start an Evernote notebook related to your health. You can have separate notes for family history, things on your mind and lifestyle goals.
- Clip (to Evernote) or print any recent articles or studies you are interested in. Make notes about why the interest or concern you.
- Make a list, in an app or on paper like the template below, of the top three things you want to discuss with your doctor and the biggest life event since your last visit.
At the doctor
When you arrive, you will register and wait. You can play Candy Crush to pass the time. Once you are called back, that’s when you can kick into high gear.
It’s perfectly ok to start your visit by explaining to your doctor that you’d like to play an active role in the exam. Tell him or her you’ve brought some notes and things you’d like to discuss. You can also mention that you’ll take some notes during the exam as well.
Here are some ways to be even more engaged during your exam:
- Share your ‘top 3 things’ and ‘big life events’ — often, we get caught up in the moment once the nurse starts taking vitals. Having a list of concerns and big life events will help you begin the exam by focusing on the things on your mind.
- Life goals — the beginning of the visit is also the time to mention any big lifestyle goals. Are your training for a marathon, planning a family or thinking about retirement? Let your doctor know, it may impact treatment planning.
- Record Audio — use Evernote or a similar tool to record the audio of your visit. Remember to ask your provider’s permission first since recording requires consent in some states. If you feel uncomfortable recording the whole visit, then wait until the last part of the visit to start. That’s when your doctor will cover treatment options, medications and next steps.
- Take notes — Again, Evernote is a great option and will go along with your audio. You can also use their Smart Notebooks to write notes and capture them later as images.
- Look at your electronic records — most doctors and nurses will be happy to let you watch as they enter your data into the medical records system. It will help you ensure they heard what you said, and gives you both a chance to correct any misunderstandings.
- Shared Decision Making — or SDM for short is catching on among avant-grade providers and savvy patients. The idea is pretty simple: doctors and patients both agree on treatment planning and next steps. Often decisions are made in consideration of life goals and big milestones. Ask your doctor to present you with options and then work with him or her to decide which mix of effectiveness, cost, outcomes and side effects works best for you.
After your visit
When you return home, take a few moments to review your notes and tackle any follow up to-dos.
- Review your notes — its easy to miss something in the environment of the exam room. Particularly when we receive some unexpected news, we often miss some of the important details.
- Scan paper documents into your storage system — An app likeGenius Scan will let you use your smart phone’s camera to capture documents directly into Evernote or Dropbox.
- Schedule any follow ups or lab tests right away — its said 80% of referrals go unscheduled. Get yours on books quickly to avoid missing an important next step.
- Review your bills carefully — It’s unlikely there will be any issues, and when issues arise, it’s probably a simple error from the computerized billing system. In this case, those lucky enough to be insured should lean on their insurance company. They’ll go to bat for you to help fix billing issues. A polite call to the office manager can also help clear things up.
- Enroll in and use patient portals — increasingly doctors offices are offering patients access to view and add to their records via an online portal or app. (If yours doesn’t, consider switching to a doctor who does.) If your doctor gives you information to enroll, make sure to sign up. You can use the EMR to ask any follow up questions after you review your notes.
- Track health concerns in your Evernote notebook or favorite text app. Much like your annual review at work, it’s hard to remember things which happen over the course of a year, but they may be important at your next physical or doctor’s appointment.
With a little planning and some simple tools, you can make the most of doctors visits and take control of your healthcare. Learn more about participating in your own care at the Society for Participatory Medicine..
Nick Dawson, MHA is the patient experience officer for Frontier Health in Richmond Virginia. He blogs at www.nickdawson.net. He’s an advocate for ePatients and participatory medicine. He runs in the summer, skis in the winter and drives a 1973 Land Rover on sunny days