Preparing for Medical Appointments

Many people don't have a lot of experience preparing for medical appointments.  If all you've ever done is gone for routine physicals and occasional assistance (mole checks, antibiotics for strep, etc.), you may not know how to best use your limited time with your doctor.

Once you've developed a medical diagnosis that needs to be regularly tracked, however, you might have a lot more doctors appointments. You might be going for second opinions, or to learn your treatment options, and you may have only a few minutes with your treatment provider to help you make very important decisions about your future.

So let me help you think about how to prepare for your appointments so you can make the most of the time you have.  

1) Make a comprehensive written list of questions.  Make three copies. If you need help preparing your questions, brainstorm with friends or family about what they would ask. Questions might include clarification of diagnosis, exploration of potential risks and benefits of possible treatments, prognosis and most likely course of disease, or eligibility for clinical trials.  

2) Bring a companion with you, ideally someone who is not overly emotionally involved. Their job will be to make sure all of your questions get asked, and that all of the answers are documented in a way that you will be able to review later.   They may end up doing very little, or they may end up doing all the question asking on your behalf. They are present as your advocate, and they will be available to step in to do as little or as much as you need.

3) Give a copy of your questions to your doctor when you walk in (or email the questions in advance, and then also provide a printed copy when you come in). Then, your doctor will have a sense of what you want to accomplish during the meeting, and your doctor might also be able to combine answers to multiple questions.

4) Block a significant chunk of time after your appointment to debrief, either with your companion, or with someone else that you care about and trust.  You may have emotional responses to the appointment that you need to process, or you might have missed some of what the doctor said and need to fill in the gaps. 

Doctor visits can be a very useful resource, and I hope these simple guidelines help you as you prepare for your next visit.