Janette Hillis-Jaffe is a health coach and consultant, and the author of the book “Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge, and Get Your Health Back… One Day at a Time.” Learn more about Janette at HealforRealNow.com or connect with her on Twitter @JanetteH_J. You can find her book on Amazon.
You walk into the doctor’s office expecting to leave with definitive answers, or at least an accurate diagnosis. But this isn’t always the case.
According to a 2014 study, at least 12 million people in the United States are misdiagnosed in doctors’ offices each year. That’s alarming, to say the least.
The good news is that there is a lot that we, as patients, can do to improve healthcare outcomes and ensure accurate diagnoses. Decades of research have shown us that better communication between patient and doctor can work to our advantage as doctors face shorter appointment times, more paperwork, and a heavier patient load.
The seven steps below can ensure that both you and your physician get what you need so that you have the best healthcare possible.
1. Set Expectations
When you make your appointment, be clear with the office staff about the purpose of the visit. Doctors make appointments of varied lengths, depending on the patient’s needs. If you want a 45-minute conversation, as opposed to a 15-minute check in, make sure that’s what you are scheduled for.
2. Bring a Partner
This may be the single most important thing you can do to ensure that you and your doctor communicate as effectively as possible. A trusted friend or family member can encourage you to tell your whole story and ask all your questions, as well as help you remember the answers. If you are hesitant because, like many people, you don’t like to ask for help, you can explain why it’s useful and offer to do the same for them.
3. Organize Your Data
We’ve all shown up to a doctor’s appointment expecting them to have received test results or other medical data from other providers, only to find that it never arrived. Don’t let that be you (again).
Your healthcare providers will be able to serve you better when you have all of your medical information at your fingertips. Here is a checklist of items to bring to every significant appointment. You can organize them in a notebook, file box, or flash drive:
- A list of questions to ask, with an extra copy for your partner.
- A copy of all relevant lab and blood work (including reports ordered by other providers).
- A short, written description of your medical history and current health condition.
- A list of all your medications and supplements, with dosages and length of time you have been on them.
- Progress charts of your symptoms, if you keep them.
4. Prepare an Agenda
Set aside time before any major appointment to develop a list of topics and specific questions. For example:
- Why is this my diagnosis?
- Is there any way that my case does not fit this diagnosis?
- What are other possible explanations for my symptoms?
- What are the risks of any recommended treatments?
- What is your success rate?
- What does success look like?
- What are my other options and what are their pros and cons?
- Can I speak to others who have gone through this treatment about their experience?
Remember: For big decisions, it’s always a good idea to get more than one opinion.
5. Take Notes
Statistics show that we forget as much as 80 percent of what we hear in conversations. If it’s important, write it down. Your appointment partner can take notes for you while you focus on listening and asking questions. If you don’t have an appointment partner, make sure that you jot down key points.
6. Confirm Your Next Steps
Before the appointment ends, clarify what you and your provider are going to do next.
You could say something like, “So, I am going to make an appointment with the physical therapist for this week and also with you for two months from now. Your office is going to send my MRIs to the orthopedist. Is there anything else?”
Covering your bases will help to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that the follow-up actually happens.
7. Follow Up
Immediately after the appointment, review the conversation and make a list of all the things you need to do: follow-up appointments, research, changes to your diet or exercise regime, etc. And schedule time to do them. Making copies and filing any new lab or imaging results will ensure that they will be at your fingertips for your next appointment.
If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of managing all of this information and taking charge, you are not alone. Between lab results, medication directions, physical therapy instructions, surgery prep instructions, diet recommendations, and your own research on treatments, the list of information to manage is daunting.
While you’d be forgiven for throwing your hands up and deciding to leave it all to the professionals, it’s not in your interest to do so. Your doctor has to track medications, symptoms, and lab results for dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of patients at a time. Taking the time to get organized can make a world of difference and ensure that you get an accurate diagnosis and the necessary care.