Help me … help you. Help me, help
This famous line from the
film Jerry Maguire may be the best advice that doctors
could give to their patient.
"Some patients have the attitude, ‘I’m
putting myself in the hands of a professional,’” says a doctor. “They
want you to make all their decisions for them.”
Patients need to get involved in their own
care and engage the doctor in a cooperative effort to determine the best course
So if you want to help your doctor help
you, you need to help your doctor. Here’s how.
1. Prepare for your doctor visit in
A recent review of 33 studies showed that
patients who filled out a detailed checklist before an office visit, or
received in-office coaching that focused on their health status, asked more questions
during their doctor visit and got more satisfaction from the visit.
“Keep a symptom diary,” advises
Terrie Wurzbacher, MD, a Navy physician for more than three decades and author
of a book titled Your Doctor
Said What? Exposing the Communication Gap.
“You may think you can remember
everything,” says Wurzbacher, “but by the time you get to see the
doctor you will have forgotten the majority of what you wanted to tell the
doctor, and it’s important for the doctor to know the progression of the
problem. Be specific. Explain that it all began with belly pain, and then you
and so on.”
Write down all of your medical problems,
and also the names and the dosages of the medications you’re taking. Once
you’ve written it all down, make a copy and give it to the nurse when you
arrive for your doctor visit. He/She’ll add it to your medical records.
“You know the doctor is going to look
at that before seeing you,” says a doctor.
2. Explain how you’re feeling.
You know better than anyone else how you
feel, and that information is vital to your doctor. That’s why doctors prefer
to take their patients’ medical history themselves.
According to a doctor – “Most patients I see are surprised to
find out that there’s something they should have brought to their doctor’s
visit.” Granted, many patients come in emergency situations
that they can’t plan for before their visit. However, most people have some heads-up for
going to their doctor. Certainly if you’re going to your annual check-up or a
routine appointment, you should bring these items with you.
Keep this checklist readily accessible; even if you’re going to
the hospital for an emergency appointment, aim to take the following 10 items
1. A medical card. It would be ideal for every doctor to have a
full list of your medical history, but our country is not even close to having
a nationally accessible medical record system. To make sure your doctor has
your information available, carry a card with you. You can find many cards that
easily downloadable on
the Internet where you list your medical problems, surgeries, doctor’s names,
insurance, and allergies. Especially if you are seeing a coverage doctor or
visiting the E.R., he or she may not have your medical record. This makes sure
that your doctor can see your most critical medical information.
2. Changes to your medical record. If you have had recent test results since you
last saw your doctor, bring these with you. Even if it was your doctor that
you’re going to see who sent you to get the test, bringing the results will
make sure that they are discussed during the visit.
3. Your medications. Very often, patients come in and say that they
can’t remember what they’re taking. “I think I stopped taking the pink tiny
pill, but I’m still taking the white one and the blue one,” is not as helpful
as actually seeing the actual bottles with the labels on them. Take all your
medications, put them in a bag, and bring them with you. Tell your doctor if
you’ve stopped taking any of your medications, and be honest if you haven’t
been taking them as much as you were supposed to. Otherwise, your doctor may
assume they’re not working, and prescribe you even more!
4. A list of alternative therapies. The majority of our patients use some type of
alternative therapy. It is better for your doctor to know about it. Most
doctors are not experts in herbal therapies, but it’s useful for them to know
you’re taking in case there are
some interactions with your other medications. Keep a list of fish oil,
vitamins, and supplements that you’re using, and a record of any visits to
chiropractors, naturopaths, or other practitioners.
5. A journal of your symptoms. If you have a chronic condition, or if you
have a new symptom you’re concerned about, you should be keeping a journal that
documents your symptoms and how it is through the following days and weeks. Your doctor may also ask you
to keep track of your response to treatments you’re doing at home. Sometimes,
there are objective measures that you need to write down, such as your blood
sugar. Bringing the journal with you to your appointment can help remind you of
your story, and allows for your doctor better understand what’s going on
and how your symptoms affect your daily life.
6. A list of your questions. You should always come prepared with a list of
questions to ask your doctor. Brainstorm the list well before your appointment,
and have a concise list of questions, starting with the most urgent that you
must get answered. Don’t leave your doctor’s office without asking them.
7. A notebook and pen. This may seem obvious, but your doctor may not
always have writing equipment readily accessible, and it’s important to have a
notebook and pen to take notes. Write down things that don’t make sense, and
ask for clarification. If there are words mentioned that you’ve never heard of,
ask your doctor to spell them. At the end of the visit, ask for a verbal
summary. Make sure you write down and understand your plan.
8. A family member or a friend. Having someone with you will give you support
and company during the appointment. And more importantly, they can help remind you of your questions and concerns,
and is another measure to help ensure your doctor answers all the questions
that you have.
9. A smartphone. Everyone seems to have some kind of smartphone
device. There will be some free time when you’re waiting. Use this time to look up what your
doctor has told you. The smartphone also keeps you busy if your wait is
10. Some snacks. Often, there are limited food options at the doctor’s office, and you may be waiting
for some time. Unless you’re told not to eat, or have a complaint that you’re
not sure how it will go, having something on hand can help make you feel
I hope this list is useful for you as you prepare for your next