Doctor Checkup Checklist

By Peter R. Kowey, MD. Medically reviewed by Tom Iarocci, MD. May 7th 2016

Some doctor’s appointments are no big deal, and others can be downright frightening. It’s easy to whip yourself into a frenzy before a diagnosis, but that can make things more difficult for your doctor and your caregiver.

To help get the answers you need,  prepare for your next medical appointment and consider asking someone to come with you to provide support or take notes. Whether it’s for yourself or a someone you care for, compile the personal medical information below and share it with your doctors. Here’s how to get started:

1)         Choose your doctor carefully.

Rely on recommendations from people you trust, especially health care professionals who work in the specialty. Sometimes nurses are particularly good at spotting the good and not-so-good doctors. Communication is an important part of the qualifications you should seek in a physician, and that should include access. When you first call any new doctor, find out how  she handles phone calls and emails, and how to get through to someone to ask a question during off-hours.

 2)        Do your homework before your appointment.

Informing yourself about your condition before you see a doctor is fine, but understand that medical literature is complicated and, many times, controversial. Recognize that your Internet research is for background only and shouldn’t replace decisions about treatment options that you and your doctor discuss.

3)         Bring a list of key questions, written down.

Because a doctor’s visit can be stressful, relying on your memory of events could be problematic. It’s much better to bring along a list of written questions and take notes. For more serious, involved appointments, suggest that a friend or caregiver take copious notes so you’re free to listen closely and ask questions.

 4)        Make sure you understand the conversation.

If you don’t comprehend the medical terminology, ask. Don’t give up. There’s nothing more important than your health, and you need to be able to make solid, educated decisions about treatment. Ask the doctor to clarify, elaborate and/or repeat difficult phrases.

 5)        Avoid telling a different version of the truth.

Be open and honest — even if you’re uncomfortable or embarrassed — when asked about the symptoms and changes you’re experiencing. Don’t tell your doctor what you think he or she wants to hear or expects to hear, or a version of events that you’re more comfortable presenting. Don’t avoid the facts or your concerns because you hope they may be irrelevant. This is serious: Admit when you’re taking a medicine, skipping exercise or not following the instructions that you’ve already received. I tell this to all my patients: You’ll never get what you need if your doctor’s in the dark. ‘Fess up.

6)         Ask for clear, quantitative terms.

Information should be conveyed in a way you comprehend. Percentages and statistics are helpful in some circumstances, but can be confusing and hard to put into perspective. For example, knowing the number of patients who must receive any given treatment to obtain one good result — doctors call this “number needed to treat” — is a great way to gain perspective on a recommended procedure.

7)         Consider second opinions.

As you begin spending more time with diagnosis, evaluation and treatment decisions, you may be introduced to new faces and experts in different specialties. The more brief or superficial your interaction with these health care practitioners is, the more you might want to consider getting a second opinion or confirm that nothing has been lost in translation. This is especially important when undergoing new and potentially risky procedures.

8)         Insist on care integration from all specialists.

Even if a primary doctor has passed off your care to one or more specialists, ask if he will take responsibility for your overall care, and collect and review those specialists’ reports. Otherwise, visiting various experts at different institutions could lead to fragmented care and increase the risk of miscommunications or missing something major. Continue to see your doctor regularly. Maintain an updated list of all medications and appointments, and give your physician a copy.

Take the next steps

At all doctor’s appointments, speak up loud and clear. Now is not the time to be bashful; no topic is taboo. Be persistent in your questioning, and if your doctor becomes impatient or makes you uncomfortable, hit the eject button and start looking for a more communicative team.

Remember, there are always options in your care. Make sure your doctor explains all of them. You should be told the advantages, disadvantages and risks associated with any procedure or prognosis, including what happens if you do nothing or take a very conservative approach. 

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