Preparing for a Visit with Your Healthcare Professional

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Before you set out to see your health care provider – whether it’s your first visit or one of many with her – sit down with pad and paper, your smartphone, Ipad, or computer and start writing your own, very comprehensive, detailed list. The more you include the more “clues” you’ll be providing your doctor/detective. Please include:

  • Your symptoms: Describe in particular when and how they began, if there was a precipitating event (i.e., accident or illness). Where is the pain or the problem? Can you point to it on your body? Be as specific as you can. When did this problem begin? Include every tiny, little detail you can think of. I just read about a patient whose illness was precipitated by bending down! Sounds like I’m making this up, right? Unfortunately, I’m not. If you pay attention to your body and what happens to you during/before/after a certain set of circumstances, your input can play a major role in uncovering what may be a tricky diagnosis.
  • What you’ve done to improve your symptoms. These may include prescription drugs as well as over the counter drugs, i.e., ibuprofen, wine/whiskey (no kidding!), chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, meditation, bedrest and sick time from work or that you’ve done/taken nothing.
  • How long have you chosen the above treatment or lack thereof to improve your symptoms? If you can’t remember the names of all of the drugs you’ve tried or can’t spell/pronounce them, not to worry. If you’ve still got them, pop them into a little bag and bring them with you. Don’t be embarrassed. I’ve seen plenty of patients sitting in waiting rooms with Ziploc bags full of prescription drugs. It’s the most accurate way to let the doc/nurse know exactly what you’ve been taking. Try to remember how long you’ve been trying each treatment or taking each medication.
  • Have your symptoms improved simply with time? with treatment? Do they wax and wane? Have they gotten worse? How much worse? If you’ve been having pain, consider using the pain scale (1–the least pain; 10 – unbearable pain) Additionally, it’s useful to “paint a picture,” tell your story in words, i.e., “when I bent over to pick up the laundry I couldn’t get up”, or “I had to hop into the woods off the trail to pee or “ – you can fill in the blanks here!) You get the idea. Do your symptoms improve or worsen at any particular time of day? Tell your story clearly and completely.
  • Any other drugs – street drugs, homeopathic medicines, etc. – you’re using? Please do share those. They’re an important part of determining your problem too.
  • Any other recent illnesses or accidents? Even if they appear to have no relation to your current problem briefly mention them anyway.
  • When I’ve been asked if I’ve traveled outside the country, I often say – “yes, I’ve been to New Jersey.” Okay. I thought it was funny.
  • Dietary/exercise regimen changes? More? Less?
  • Big time stresses in your home/work life – marriage, divorce, school, the death of a loved one, moving, broken heart, new job, issues with your kids, layoff, bankruptcy? Do mention any and all of the above. As we all know, stresses aren’t so good for us, but they’re unavoidable and can be a contributing factor to your health problem.
  • Have you had this health problem before? Sit and think, think, think. Even if it’s a tidbit of information and seems insignificant you, write it down anyway. You never know if that one little scrap of data is just what the doctor ordered. This may help her help you.

I know. It’s a lot to think about and takes plenty of time. You’re worth it. I suggested creating a list to my friend, Amelia, who has been living with multiple sclerosis. She was “surprised at how effective and effortless it was.” Her doctor was “relieved” Amelia had shown up with all pertinent information.

After you’ve prepared your list, written it clearly and succinctly (be sure you and your doc can read it), print a copy for yourself and one for her. Remove it from your printer and please remember to bring it with you!! Put a reminder on your computer or a string around your finger, but do remember to bring your list with you. It’s better to have a printed copy than a list on your iPhone, Ipad. Both you and your doc can look at it simultaneously. A friend of mine wrote out one list that he held in his hand. His physician abruptly grabbed it out of the patient’s hand. I always print out two lists. If you’ve printed two lists, this issue of control can be avoided. When I gave my list to one of my docs: He laughed.  Glad I gave him/her a smile.

And, most importantly, what are your goals of treatment and what are willing to do to get there.  Surgery, medications?  Or, simply chiropractic, nutritional supplements, exercise, meditation to feel better without doing the “full monty.”  Your goals can direct your physician to where you want to be.

Participate in your health care with your list.  Every friend I’ve suggested this to and they’ve shown up with a list has made their doc/nurse practitioner happy.  What do you have to lose? #whywait #trustyourdoctorbutnotthatmuch #advocateforyourhealthcare #prepareforyourvisit.


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