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6 Quick Tips to Get More from Your Doctor
I can’t count how many times I’ve come away from an appointment with my GP or a specialist feeling disappointed with the outcome of our limited time together. Like I’d intended to get more from my doctor going in, but ultimately came away with very little.
One of the biggest difficulties in the doctor patient dynamic, particularly where the ailment in question is serious and/or long term in nature, is that the both parties are coming to the table with very competing and conflicting priorities and view points.
The patient is often coming from a perspective of high hopes and expectations, their life as they knew it in chaos, their needs desperate and their want for solutions large. They want time, care, expertise they want to feel that the person opposite them understands that their life, their future, rests in their hands.
The doctor however is coming from a different place. They have hundreds of patients who want their attention and face a daily struggle of prioritising all of these people and all of these needs based on time, severity and no doubt some internal politics and administrative demands. As they approach the appointment their main concerns may be about how late their clinic is running, the bad news update they just received about a terminal patient, or the fact that they know the patient they’re about to see has a lot of problems that need investigation, interpretation and treatment, but that they only have 10 minutes to give to them.
Neither party is at fault. Both are desperately doing their best in difficult circumstances. But the opportunity to come away having both missed their initial intentions for the meeting is great.
So what can you do to help aid this process? To help ensure you are working in partnership with your medical team? To get more from your doctor and to move your health goals forward? Check out my quick tips from lessons I’ve learned below:
1. Track Symptoms
Whether it is a particular symptom you want to focus on in your appointment, or a series of symptoms you need to discuss, tracking symptoms in advance of your appointment can help you to get more from your doctor.
When you actually track your symptoms sometimes you become aware of patterns you hadn’t noticed before which may provide useful additional information for you and your doctor. You also start to get a picture of how good or bad things are, and how much of the time. It can be easy to play things down when we are summarising anecdotally, for example ‘yeah it’s not too bad most of the time’ when tracking may show you that actually it’s more regularly bothering you than you first thought.
A small note on tracking symptoms, personally I don’t recommend tracking symptoms permanently. Obviously this is personal choice, but there’s a danger, I think in constant tracking drawing our attention back to the negatives when we may well have just got on with the positives. I personally much prefer not tracking to tracking. But I have to admit at key points, whether to monitor the effectiveness of lifestyle or treatment changes, or to prepare me for an appointment, it has been a very useful tool.
There are some great tacking apps available for tracking various things. Personally I use ‘Symple’ which gives you lots of flexibility in what you track and all of the data you record can be downloaded into a spreadsheet or reports for your doctor.
2. Write down your Desired Outcomes
What do you actually want this appointment for? What are you hoping to come away with at the end? This is where it is important that you are clear going in, otherwise your leaving it to chance to get what you want.
To be clear here, I think the key with outcomes is having a good idea what you want to happen, not how you want it to happen. It can be tempting in this information age to go in having decided what the doctor should do before you’ve even seen them.
Rather than an objective of
‘I want a prescription of 20mg of Amitriptyline for nerve pain and a referral to a Neurologist for an MRI scan of my brain and spine’
Which could be perceived as undermining the doctors own skills, knowledge and training which lets face it, is why, in theory, we’re going to see them(!). The outcomes can be more effective if they are equally as clear, but a little less specific. For example:
‘I would like to discuss my ongoing nerve pain and symptoms, with a view to reviewing possible pain management options and further investigation/diagnosis’
This was a lesson I got hammered home very recently. I went into my appointment with a view that (based on research) I wanted a particular blood test to progress my diagnosis. Actually the truth was I needed to have a little more faith in my doctor. On her analysis of the situation she moved me straight to 3 new referrals and a potential diagnosis. It was my place to state what I wanted to happen (further investigation), she was then able to use her unique skills to work out how she would get me there.
3. Prepare for the Appointment
Once you have all of your symptom tracking info, outcomes and anything else you think is relevant, it is worth spending a couple of minutes pulling it all together in a way that you can easily reference in the appointment.
Also spend a minute visualising how you want the appointment to go. This will help you feel confident and less flustered when your face to face with your doctor and you’re both consciously aware of the clock that’s counting down!
4. Be upfront with your Doctor at the beginning of your appointment
When you have 10 minutes (sometimes less) you don’t have time to beat around the bush! There’s no point in announcing your desired outcomes for the appointment with only 2 minutes remaining (well actually that would still be preferable to not announcing them at all).
The best course of action is to tell you doctor in your opening sentence what it is you want to discuss and the outcomes you are hoping to achieve. This provides a structure to the appointment for both of you and so is likely to be welcomed. Also if the doctor doesn’t believe they can meet these expectations, it forces the discussion about why upfront, and hopefully better manages your expectations removing disappoint on the other side.
5. Manage your own expectations
10 minutes (or less) is not a long time, so you may have to prioritise. If you have a long list of things you may wish to try and get a double appointment if that’s available, or book a second appointment a week later to cover the things you can’t meet. (Probably not an option with specialists.)
It may be that you need to talk about diagnosis and symptom management of the same symptom, but they can’t both be achieved in one session. However, you can outline your objectives to you doctor at the beginning of the first and explain you have a second appointment booked to discuss the parts you don’t have time to cover in this session.
6. Finally keep going and keep motivated
This is most certainly a case of do as I say, not as I do! I got to a point where I was so fed up of being prodded and poked, waiting for test results only for them to draw a blank, various responses from doctors (from it’s all in your head, to just generally being stumped) that I just couldn’t find the energy to give to it any more.
I have had long periods of time where I just haven’t felt mentally and physically strong enough and have therefore avoided appointments completely. Which was silly because I still had things that were unresolved.
All I know is, you won’t get the diagnosis you need sitting at home. And you won’t be able to manage your illness and symptoms to the best of your ability without expert help, advice and support.
That doesn’t have to look like traditional doctors only. It can also include functional medicine doctors, naturopaths, dieticians, nutritionists, homeopaths, acupuncturists, coaches, massage therapists, the list could go on and on.
The key here is not to give up. Because it’s hard to do this alone, regardless of how much information is on the internet, we need accountability, we need advice and we need support. Ultimately that is what enables us to take back control and start moving towards our wellness goals and the life of vitality we are ready to embrace.
Do you have any other top tips for to get more from your doctor? What have you tried that’s worked really well? I’d love to hear in the comments.
Stay Strong Wellness Warriors 💪,