Have you ever walked out of a doctor's office having spent more time in the waiting room than in the exam room with the doctor, only to leave frustrated because your questions weren't answered? Or perhaps the doctor asks, "Do you have any questions?" and you were caught off-guard, uncertain what to ask.
Your office visit should be a positive experience based on a free and open exchange of information. But sometimes talking about our bodies can be uncomfortable. It's pretty common to forget to ask important questions or to not fully hear or comprehend what the doctor or nurse is telling you.
There are a few things you can do to prepare for your next office visit to make sure these things don't happen to you. Before your next appointment, consider these steps:
Have an agenda. Know what you want to get out of the visit, and come prepared. Sometimes this is simple – you have minor symptoms the physician can diagnose easily. Sometimes it's more complex – you have a serious illness and need information on the different treatment options available and their success rates; and want to know the potential side effects of treatments or prescription medications. Regardless, if you give this some thought ahead of time and come to the visit with goals in mind, you are more likely to leave the office satisfied.
Share your agenda with your provider early in the visit. Your provider's goal is to help you improve your health. Make sure your provider knows how to help you by sharing what you want to get out of the visit within the first couple minutes. This will help the provider understand your needs and make the best use of your time together.
Don't try to tackle too much, or make sure the scheduling nurse knows you have several items to discuss. Typical new-patient visits, depending on the individual provider and their specialty, are scheduled for 20-40 minutes. Return visits, regardless of specialty, are likely to be scheduled in 10- to 15-minute increments. This means you may not get to everything on your agenda. So, prioritize your list and tackle the most important items first. If you think you will need more time, it may help to mention this when you call for the appointment, so that a longer time slot is reserved for your visit.
Bring a list of questions. It is natural to have questions about a diagnosis, prescribed medications, tests or the treatment plan. It's hard to remember questions when you're feeling pressured, so think through your questions ahead of time and bring a written list with you to the appointment.
Check to be sure your specialist has any relevant lab reports, test results or films prior to your visit. With the increased availability of electronic health records, this step may have already been taken care of for you. All Parkview Physicians Group (PPG) providers in Indiana, and after March 2014 in Ohio, use the same electronic health record system. That means the information recorded electronically by your PPG primary care physician, along with lab and imaging results from tests at Parkview facilities, are shared with your other physicians and specialists within the Parkview system. It’s a single story of your care. If you aren’t seeing a PPG physician, you might want to make some phone calls to be sure your specialist has all of the information they need in advance.
Take notes. Your provider will give you important information about your health, your medication, treatment plan, recommended lifestyle changes, etc. You are more likely to remember the important points after you leave if you take notes while you are there. So come prepared with paper and pen.
Bring someone with you. Two heads are better than one, especially when you are trying to absorb information, process it and ask questions. If two of you are listening, it’s twice as likely that one of you will hear and understand what is said.
If you don't understand something, ask! If you smile and nod, your provider will think you understand what was said. If you don't, please ask. Even the best doctors are lousy mind-readers! If the provider uses medical jargon that you don't understand, ask for clarification. This is especially important with regard to the treatment plans. Do you know the next step? What medication to start and which one to stop? Where to go and how to prepare for the test? When to come back?
Before you leave, write down the name and number of a contact person in case you think of questions or encounter problems after you leave. With MyChart, part of Parkview’s electronic health record system, you have the option of sending private, secure messages to your physician at any time (learn more below).
If you follow these few simple suggestions, you and your healthcare provider will find your office visits to be more informative, more satisfying and better for your health!
Simplify your healthcare information at your next PPG visit
During your next visit with a PPG physician, ask for an access code to sign up for Parkview MyChart (beginning in March 2014 from PPG physicians in Ohio).
MyChart is a secure and confidential web-based system that allows you to communicate with your PPG doctor's office and access many of your healthcare records from any place with an internet connection. MyChart lets you get more from your healthcare when it's convenient for you.
You can use MyChart to:
Send and receive secure messages with your provider
View your health summary
Access some of your test results
Request prescription refills
Request an appointment
View your recent clinic visits
Read more about MyChart on Parkview.com.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your tips for ensuring a more meaningful doctor visit.