Six ways to get more from your medical appointment

How ready are you for your medical appointment?

Most of us would benefit from preparing for medical appointments, says Tawnya Williamson, a Speech-Language Pathologist with the St. Mary’s Hospital Stroke Early Supported Discharge Team.

“Most of us, when we’re healthy, don’t have a lot of appointments. But when you have medical needs and many appointments it can get stressful,” Tawnya says. “Being prepared makes it easier to be a more active participant in your own care.”

She and her fellow team members support stroke patients. Part of that recovery often requires many appointments with different doctors. Combine multiple appointments with the stress of medical issues and it can be difficult for patients to keep track of all of the information. Speech, language or communication challenges can make a medical appointment even more challenging.

The Stroke Early Supported Discharge Team shares pointers based on the What Matters to You campaign to ensure patients leave appointments with the information they need. Many of the tips are helpful for any medical appointment, says Tawnya.

Tell the receptionist if you have multiple concerns when you book your appointment

It’s a good idea to let the receptionist know if you have multiple concerns to discuss with your provider. They may schedule a longer appointment for you and you’ll feel less rushed during your visit. You can also ask for more time when you call to book your appointment if you feel you need it.

Bring a list of your concerns to the appointment

Writing out your questions before an appointment is more important than you may realize. Medical appointments can be stressful and overwhelming. If you have multiple concerns, it can be easy to forget to ask about some of them. A list helps ensure you leave with your questions and concerns addressed. If you have other medical information, such as blood sugar or blood pressure tracking, bring this along too.

“Knowing what you want and need to find out at your appointments is important,” Tawnya says.

Bring a list of medications, supplements and vitamins

Put together a list of your prescription medications, dosage, and how often you’re taking them. If it’s easier, bring the medications to the appointment. You should also bring a list of any supplements or vitamins you’re taking.

It’s important because medications, supplements or vitamins may negatively interact with a medication your doctor wants to prescribe. Doctors need to understand everything you’re taking so they can provide the best care.

Be prepared to take notes

Depending on your appointment or medical needs, you may be given a lot of information, and some of it may be complex. Don’t be afraid to bring your notebook, phone, laptop or tablet for note taking if you prefer digital notes.

Bring someone with you

Your friend, partner or family member can offer moral support and help you remember important information. That support is especially important if you’re feeling nervous, have complex medical needs or have communication challenges. The person can take notes for you, if you prefer.

“Most of the time our clients take someone with them,” says Tawnya. “When we talk with them after their appointment we’ll ask them how it went, and sometimes their spouse or family member will add additional information.”

Be prepared to be honest

Be clear about your symptoms or signs of illness. Some topics can feel embarrassing to discuss, but doctors are there to help and need to know what’s happening to properly address a health concern.

Be honest about your lifestyle, which can include your exercise levels, how much alcohol you drink or whether you’re taking unprescribed drugs.

Know ahead of time that you can ask your doctor to break down information in terms you understand. People should head into an appointment knowing they can ask for clarification. Be comfortable knowing you can be honest if you don’t understand something, and don’t be shy about asking your provider to write down key points if you think it would be helpful

“We encourage patients to ask their specialists to break down information into language that makes sense,” says Tawnya.

Most of us aren’t familiar with medical jargon, so make sure you ask your doctor or care provider to clarify information. It’s important to walk away from your appointment with a clear understanding of your needs and next steps. 

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