Preparing for Provider Visits

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We must become ambassadors for our own health in every way that we can, because nobody else has the time.

It’s easy to assume that medical providers’ work days consist of nothing but face-to-face clinical visits with patients. However, the truth is, today’s medical doctors are burdened by an enormous amount of administrative tasks and paperwork. In fact, only about a quarter of a physician’s day is spent on what matters most: direct patient care. Even when doctors are meeting with their patients, about half of the office visit is spent filling in patient charts and performing desk work. Combine this with the fact that the average primary care doctor has a patient panel of close to 2,500 individuals, and one truth emerges: patients have a very small window of opportunity – usually no more than a few minutes – to engage in discussions regarding their health, treatment options, and recovery at any given doctor’s visit.

What does this mean?

Getting the most out of your provider visits is a vital part of being an ambassador for your health. By taking a proactive and engaged approach to provider appointments, you can maximize the value and benefit you receive from one-on-one time with any health care provider, enabling you to feel more confident in making informed treatment and lifestyle decisions and plan for next steps. You can maximize the benefit from provider appointments by 1) making efficient use of office visits, and 2) preparing ahead of time.

Here are tips for achieving these goals:

Get your records together

Provide the following to all of your care providers; ask if they would prefer you bring them in with you or send to the office ahead of time:
1)A full medical history, including a family medical history – you can create your own here https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/FHH/html/index.html
2) Reports: Hospital records, Lab results, diagnostic reports, health screening reports, etc…
NOTE: Some of these records may take a significant amount of time to track down, request, and obtain. Start the process early, track the documents you have requested, where you obtained them, when they are taken, and when you received them. Once you’ve obtained your records, provide a copy to your doctor, and keep the original for yourself. Most doctor’s offices will be happy to make copies or download images on your behalf. Once you have your records, the My Journey, My Choices Your Healing Planner is a great place to organize and store them.
3)A list of all prescriptions, over the counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements. Download The Caring Ambassadors Program’s free  My Medication and Supplements reference sheet.

Take the intake questionnaire seriously

If this is your first visit with a provider, thoughtfully and thoroughly complete the provider’s intake questionnaire. Fill out the questionnaire ahead of time, so that you aren’t rushed and at risk of omitting important information. You may have to request the questionnaire be mailed or emailed to you ahead of time when you schedule your appointment. You can also complete the comprehensive health intake questionnaire we’ve provided on this website and provide it to your physician or use it to fill in your provider’s office forms.

Keep a symptom diary

Keep a short diary of symptoms and physical problems – even those that may not seem to be related to the illness for which you are seeing your provider. A symptom tracker can help you and your providers establish any effectiveness of medications and therapies, potential triggers, and overall health trends. Here is a symptom diary you can download, made available by the American Academy of Family Physicians: Symptom Diary.

Bring a Health Ally
Like a friend or loved one – along with you to appointments: Relay to your ally what you want to get out of the appointment ahead of time, and instruct them to jump in if you’ve forgotten to address any of your concerns or questions. Your health ally can also keep notes throughout the appointment, ensuring that you are able to engage in a productive discussion with your provider without distraction.
Make the most out of the opening discussion:
Doctors typically open an office visit by asking, “What brings you in today”. Many patients answer this question with brief, short-sighted answers such as, “My primary care physician referred me.”, or, “…”. However, this open-ended question provides an excellent opportunity to address not just your disease symptoms, but bigger picture items: such as your overall health concerns or some of the external factors in life that may be contributing to health problems or flare-ups. The comments and concerns laid out by a patient at the beginning of an appointment can shape the overall tone of the doctor’s visits and have implications for diagnostics, referrals, and treatment plans. Take the following two patient response scenarios to the question, “What brings you in today?”, and envision how the exams ,treatment plans, and referral resources that follow may differ:

Patient 1: “I’ve been feeling awful for the past several weeks: exhausted, in pain, and putting on weight for no apparent reason.”

Patient 2: “My mom died last month. I’ve been in charge of handling her estate and all the funeral arrangements. I’m so busy and stressed that I can’t even grieve, sleep or cook a decent meal at home. I’m exhausted, in pain, gaining weight, and I’m worried about the effect all of this is having on my underlying medical condition.”

In with information and questions; out with next steps and answers
Information empowers you and all members of your health care team; arm yourself with information both before and after an office visit. The information that you bring to the appointment will help keep you on track and ensure that your provider has the information she needs to treat you effectively and plan for next steps. The information you leave with should address all questions and concerns you had prior to your appointment, provide you with clear next steps for treatment and management of your long-term illness(s), and enable you to confidently make knowledgeable decisions about your medical condition and overall health and well-being. If your provider cannot provide you with the information you need to feel confident in making decisions and taking next steps, consider getting a second (or third!) opinion.
Request an office summary
Prevent errors, misunderstandings, or confusion (for both you and your provider). Review your clinical summary at a team prior to leaving your appointment. If you or your health ally were taking notes, review these with your provider at the end of the appointment as well.