I have seen way too many doctors in my life. Hell, I’ve seen way too many doctors this year. The point is, I’ve had some practice with medical appointments and I’ve learned a few things along the way. I didn’t think too much of this until I met with my potential new primary care physician on Monday. Twice during the appointment he commented that he wished all of his patients would bring in what I was then handing him. That reminded me that a lot of people don’t know to do these things. So I’m spreading my knowledge. Please share yours in the comments!
Here’s what I bring:
- Forethought. I think in advance about what I want to get out of this particular appointment. What do I want to learn? What do I want to come away with?
- Paper and pen, a laptop, or some other means of taking notes. It’s nice to think I’ll remember everything when I leave an appointment but I won’t. There’s just too much new information. By the way, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor how to spell the name of a possible illness or medication. It’s important to get it right so you can look it up later.
- My list of diagnoses, especially for a new doctor. I have so many diagnoses at this point that I can’t remember them all. Bringing a written list is helpful. You might want to add other relevant notes, such as the year you were diagnosed with each one and how the diagnosis was made.
- My list of symptoms. Same as above, it’s hard to remember them all.
- All of my medicine bottles, both prescription and over-the-counter. This way when a doctor asks how many IU of Vitamin D I take, or how much selenium is in my multivitamin, or a what an unknown item contains, I can just hand her or him the bottle to get the answer. After all, saying I take three calcium pills per day doesn’t mean anything unless I know how much calcium is in each pill. Sometimes I leave home the less necessary ones if my bag is too heavy for me to carry comfortably. There are a lot of bottles.
- A list of questions. It’s nice to think I’ll remember to ask my doctor all of my questions, but when the time comes and I’m busy answering theirs, it’s easy to forget one. I start thinking about this list days in advance of most appointments and I make sure to write down absolutely everything I want to cover.
- A list of tests I want run. This isn’t necessary for every appointment, but it’s important for many. In this case, the doctor planned to run some of the tests I wanted anyway, but there were several that he hadn’t planned on. When we discussed it, he agreed to run them. It’s a good thing I asked!
- A list of referrals I need. This is especially important if your health insurance requires referrals in order to cover the expenses of care. Mine does. I brought the list so I’d be sure not to forget anyone.
- Someone to lend support, ask questions, and later lend insight. I don’t do this for most appointments, but sometimes it’s necessary. I didn’t do it for this last one, but I’ve brought my parents to other appointments. I have also accompanied loved ones to appointments. The doctor never bats an eye – this is normal. And it’s so important.
- A printout of all labwork from outside their hospital system. Within a given hospital system around here, doctors can see each other’s notes and test results. They can’t see these when they’re from other systems. Since I am seeing doctors in different hospital systems right now, I have to be careful to coordinate everything. Earlier this year I began recording all test results in a spreadsheet. Before Monday’s appointment, I filtered it to show only the labwork run by doctors in other systems and I printed that. My new PCP was thrilled. It included “normal” ranges, the date of the test, and the doctor that ordered the test. However, before I had this spreadsheet I would bring any copies I had of test results with me. If I needed to keep those pages, I would offer to let the doctor photocopy them.
- Food and water. Some appointments last a long time. It’s good to have a snack for afterwards.
So that’s mainly what I bring. Obviously everyone’s needs are different, but this might be a useful starting point for many people. In case you’re wondering, the two things that made my new doctor especially happy were the pill bottles I’d brought and also my printout of labwork. What do you bring with you to medical appointments?
I agree with all of the above, although I don’t do most of it. I do take a list of my meds and their dosages, but not the actual bottles. And I have discussed and occasionally argued treatments with various doctors. In fact, last year I literally begged my specialist to just schedule the damn surgery already. I’m glad he talked me out of it ’cause the “last ditch” treatment he ordered instead actually is working. And who wants to undergo surgery if there’s any other possible alternative?
Congratulations, C’sM! It’s always good to avoid surgery!
I second that, CM!
This is a great post, CR! Thank you ~ and
I hope this “good start” bodes well for future dealings with this PCP.
It may be cumbersome to assemble, but a list of the “last-known” contact info for one’s previous Docs could be handy, as well.
~ and a thought on pill bottles – would it be worth-while keeping the last “empty” in your Doctor Bag, instead of lugging the live ones?
Good points! I do keep a list of last-known contact for doctors (I just started it and it’s sad how many I’m not sure of) but I never thought to bring that with me to medical appointments. I should start doing that. As for the pill bottles, I thought about keeping the empties for this reason, but I don’t have a lot of space and I haven’t figure out yet where I’d keep them. Maybe I’ll give that another look, too.
Another possible PITA idea, but: keep just the labels from the most recent empties?
I love that! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it but, well….
I just fwd’d this post to a friend who has a 1st appt. next week – and thought of a couple of additions:
~ Ask at the office “How much time will I have to *actually talk with* the Doc about my situation?” Knowing in advance if you have to edit your talking-points is a GoodThing!
~ Be pro-active – not to assume that because this Doc is in-network with previous ones and (theoretically) have easy access, that they’ll actually take the time to Look AT any of your records. Like you said – make the list, edit as appropriate. 😉
Good ideas, Karen!
Great advice here. I wish I followed it. Even when I come close and actually plan to take notes I feel like i get overwhelmed by a doctor wanting to take control and not really give me info, but just tell me what to do.
It sounds like you need a family member or friend to come with you. They could take notes and make sure you get all of your pre-written questions answered.