How to maximize your medical specialist appointment
Angela Johnson is the President of Medical Confidence, a national service that helps patients play a more active role in their healthcare. According to Johnson, the average visit to a specialist is 15 minutes or less. Her advice? Make sure every minute counts… and here’s how:
Tip #1: Do your due diligence. Ask your family doctor why he or she feels this specialist is the right doctor for you to see. The increased complexity in medicine is driving specialists to become more specialized, which means not every specialist has the same credentials, experience, area of focus, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask, it is fair a question.
Tip #2: Collect all of your reports, especially images of tests previously completed.
Don’t assume your family doctor sent these to the specialist in advance of your appointment. Family doctors very rarely have copies of the test images, and specialists like to see the images for themselves.
Tip #3: Call the specialist’s office and ask if there are any tests to complete in advance.
There is nothing more frustrating after waiting months to see a specialist only to learn a test was needed before he or she can make a complete assessment, diagnose and provide recommended treatment options.
Tip #4: Keep the following agenda in mind:
There is much to cover in a short period of time. Try to keep to the following agenda so you don’t run out of time: 5 minutes to tell your story, 5 minutes to answer their questions and physical examination, and 5 minutes to discuss treatment options.
Tip #5: Write it down.
There is a lot to cover in a short period of time. Writing it down will make sure you don’t forget important things. Tip #9 has some things to keep in mind as you make your notes. Don’t forget to bring your notes to your visit.
Tip #6: Bring a family member, friend or patient advocate.
Having someone with you can provide crucial moral support, such as helping you stay relaxed and focused. They will help ensure your doctor listens to you and addresses your most important questions, take notes for you and will help you recall the details and next steps. Choose someone who is diplomatic, polite and assertive. Make sure the both of you agree on their role, and rehearse the visit with them in advance.
Tip #7: Confirm the address and plan for your arrival.
Doctors sometimes have more than one office, or move, make sure you confirm the location of the visit with thespecialist’s office. Review the route and give yourself plenty of time to get there.
Tip #8: Dress for the visit.
The specialist will need to examine the area in question. Save precious time by wearing clothing that allows for easy access.
Tip #9: Don’t forget your health card.
It may be obvious but you would be surprised how many of us forget our health card or have an expired card when we show up to our visit.
Tip #10: Tell your story.
This is not the time to be shy. Each of us is unique, our bodies are all different. No one knows your body better than you. It’s also difficult to know what is important and what is not. Keep these additional tips in mind:
- Use your own words
- Start at the beginning and tell it chronically
- Describe timing, symptoms, severity, changes over time. Dates and times are not as important as tying context and chronology of events together
- Describe how your symptoms have impacted your life
- If something is out of the norm and alerted you – emphasize it
- If something is worrying you – share it
- Use simple language – do not try to use medical terms, speak as though you are talking to a family member or friend
- Don’t self-diagnose. Your job is to tell your story, let them do theirs
- Make sure you share any medications or naturopathic treatments , including dosage
- If you feel you’re not being heard: be polite, courteous and respectful; interrupt if you are interrupted — make sure you finish your thoughts; answer close-ended questions with full answers — don’t just give yes and no answers; answer their pressing questions first, but don’t forget to complete your story. This is when your notes are helpful.
- Review your notes make sure you didn’t miss anything important
Tip #11: Ask questions.
When a specialist recommends certain treatments or procedures do not be afraid to ask questions. A few to keep in mind include:
- How common is the procedure or treatment?
- What is the success rate?
- How many times have they performed the treatment?
- How long is the recovery period?
- What are the long term affects and impacts to my lifestyle?
- What are the risks and/or side effects?
- What is the alternative if it is unsuccessful?
- Are there other options: i.e. new procedures, experimental trials that should be considered?
Tip #12: Don’t feel pressured to make a decision on the spot.
Take the time you need to process what the specialist is recommending. Talk to and learn from others, the internet is a great source to find others who have gone through similar situations.
Tip #13: Book a follow-up visit with your family doctor.
Make sure you have a follow-up appointment scheduled with your family doctor to discuss the visit. Your family doctor is your overall care provider and it is important he or she is part of your decision process. Don’t forget to provide feedback on the specialist, so the family doctor can assess if they should continue to include them in their network.
Tip #14: When in doubt ask for a second opinion.
In the end, it is your decision and if you need a second opinion before deciding what you would like to do, ask your family doctor for a second referral.