Staying Informed About Your Health Care – A How-To List

Going to the doctor or other health care practitioner can be stressful, and it’s easy to feel rushed when you’re at an appointment. It’s quite often “hurry up and wait”, and that pressure can lead us to rush through our part of the visit as well. We worry we’ll seem slow on the uptake if we don’t understand what’s being told to us, or that having questions will make us seem pushy or uncooperative.

It’s totally normal to feel this way – we’ve been brought up with the concept that doctors are busy and important, so who are we to get in the way? It’s important to remember though, that you are uniquely positioned to discuss your health with your doctor, and you have a duty to yourself to take the best care of your body that you can. After all, you’re the only one with the knowledge and experience of living your life, in your body, and how that feels. No one will care more about your life than you!

That’s not to say your doctor doesn’t care about you – they do want the best for you. But when appointment are set 10-15 minutes apart, if you don’t speak up, it can be easy for the doctor to hit the highlights of what’s happening and what they want to do about it. Unfortunately, hitting the highlights can be easy for a doctor with the background knowledge of how a healthy body works, what might be happening with yours, and what can be done to move back towards good health. Take advantage of this knowledge – you’ll find that your doctor is happy to explain things in more detail. You’ll be better informed, and will likely be able to make better choices about your healthcare for years to come. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your doctor’s appointment, though these points apply to any visit with anyone taking part in your health care, including exercise physiologists and personal trainers, chiropractors, massage therapists – you name it!

Come prepared. Whether you have a list of questions or a list of symptoms – no matter how simple, or how complicated – writing these down in the lead up to your appointment will help you make sure you don’t miss anything. This goes even if it’s just a general check-up.

Take notes at your doctor’s appointment. Your doctor went to school for YEARS to simply begin to understand what they are trying to tell you in five minutes. You probably won’t remember everything they are saying, so be a smarty-pants and write it down. Your doctor will be impressed.

Find out in detail what you can expect from a prescription or treatment. If you don’t know what to expect, how will you know if it’s working? Additionally, some treatments and prescriptions can have heavy-duty side effects, and you should be aware of what to look for.

If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. Doctors LOVE patients who are actively engaged in their own medical care, and they’ll take more time to explain things and make sure that you understand to your own satisfaction. Don’t hesitate to ask.

Keep track of your treatments, prescriptions, supplements, and surgeries. Don’t count on your medical office to have an up-to-date list, especially if you are seeing multiple health care practitioners. Helping them stay current will help you get better care.

Pay attention to what happens when you do (or don’t) take your prescriptions, supplements, or otherwise follow doctor’s orders.
Taking (or missing) a tablet, an appointment, or a workout may or may not have an immediate effect (and I’m certainly not suggesting you experiment with skipping things you should be doing!) Sometimes we forget things though, and it’s handy to reflect on whether that makes a difference to how you’re feeling in the days after the fact.

Ask your doctor if they have additional materials that can help you understand your condition or treatment. This is especially useful if you’ve recently been diagnosed with a health condition, or have been prescribed a new treatment of some sort. People learn and retain information in a variety of ways. If your doctor can show you a video, give you a booklet with pictures and information, or otherwise find ways to help you understand what’s going on with your body, you’re likely to gain a much better understanding. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Talk to the nurses! The nursing staff is a collective goldmine of experience, and can answer many of your health questions just as well as the doctor. You might have a little more time with a nurse, as well, so you might as well make the most of it.

Bring a second set of ears. If you have someone close enough to share your health information with, it can be handy to have a second set of ears to help absorb information, and they may ask some good questions that you don’t think of.

Find out how to get further information. It can be tough to get all your info in one visit, and Dr. Google is a BAD doctor. Find out who you can get in touch with, and how to do it, if you have additional questions or want more information.

Don’t be afraid to change doctors. There are pros and cons to this – in many ways, it’s great to be working with someone who is deeply familiar with your health history. But if you find that your doc is unwilling to share information, or you’re otherwise unhappy with your care, it’s worth finding someone you click with.

Don’t forget, your doctor actually works for you. Stay healthy, my friends!

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