10 ways to get the most from your doctor’s appointment

13 October 2014
Screenshot of Appointments image

The best doctors’ appointments are a two way street: the more information you give your doctor and the more involved you are with the process, the better the likely outcome.

Here are ten ways to ensure that you get the most from your appointment.

1. Be prepared

It’s important to ask yourself what you want to get out of the appointment. For example, if you think the treatment may involve medication you might want to know about side-effects; if you think it might involve a referral you may have questions about how long that will take, and so on. It’s never a bad idea to write down the questions you want to ask beforehand, or make some notes on your phone.

2. Provide as much information as possible

The more information your doctor has, the better the advice or treatment he or she will be able to give you. With symptoms, details of how often they’ve occurred, how severe they have been and when they first started are essential, and the doctor will also need to know of any medication or alternative treatments you might have taken.

Dr Saul Kaufman says that in many cases, patients’ diaries - whether written or entered into a mobile app - can be really helpful. “It’s very useful when patients come with diaries,” he says. “For example, diaries of blood pressure give a far more accurate picture of how someone is than the snapshot I will get in a ten-minute appointment. Also, people’s memory of their symptoms isn’t always perfect, because we tend to give greater weight to the most recent days and forget how we were a few weeks ago.”

Dr Kaufman recommends diaries for food intolerances too. “In one instance it was only by using a diary and being scientific that a patient realised he was lactose intolerant. That’s led to a dramatic improvement in his quality of life.”

3. Ask for more time if you need it

If your condition or situation is complicated or if you have multiple conditions you need to discuss, you can ask your GP for a double appointment. 

4. Ask for a telephone appointment if you can’t risk being exposed to others’ bugs

If you’d rather not share a waiting room with others because your immune system has taken a knock, most GPs offer telephone consultations. 

5. Be honest

If you’re holding back a crucial part of the picture then that affects your doctor’s ability to help. He or she isn’t going to judge you if you drink too much, smoke or take things you shouldn’t, but if you don’t admit to it you could be concealing a really crucial piece of information. The more your doctor knows, the more he or she can help.

6. Take somebody with you

If you’re anxious or nervous about your appointment, take a family member or friend with you to give you support and somebody to talk to afterwards.

7. Ask questions

If you’re not sure what something means, if you feel you don’t have all the information or you have any concerns, ask! Your doctor should be happy to clarify anything you don’t understand, to talk about lifestyle changes that might help or to discuss the various options available to you.

8. Make notes

Don’t be scared to scribble notes during your appointment - we’ve all left doctors’ appointments and forgotten half of the things we’ve been told. You could even record the appointment with your phone or a recording device, although if you want to do that it’s best to ask first.

9. Know what’s going to happen next

If there are next steps to be taken, make sure you know who needs to do them - so for example some services use self-referral, so it’s up to you to make the call to arrange your appointment, while things such as tests are usually requested by the doctor. 

10. Don’t be scared to ask for a second opinion

Doctors are people, and that means they’re fallible: if you aren’t happy with the advice or suggested treatment your doctor recommends, then you’re perfectly entitled to ask for a second opinion. If the doctor is a consultant that your GP has referred you to, you’ll need to go back to your GP and ask to be referred to somebody else. 

The app for monitoring your health conditions.

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