Getting the most from your doctor's appointment

Thursday, March 9, 2017 10:40 AM
Dr. Charles Bellows

In today’s managed care environment, the time you spend with your physician is your best opportunity to discuss your medical problem and concerns. To get the most quality time you deserve with your physician, preparation is the key for an accurate diagnosis and to alleviate any anxiety you may feel about the appointment.

The goal of your appointment is the timely diagnosis and treatment of your condition. You can make sure you get the best possible care by being an active member of your health care team. Being involved means being prepared and asking questions. Thus, before your appointment, organize your thoughts, prioritize which health issues or important symptom you’ve been experiencing, and write them down. If you like, bring a trusted friend, family member or care coordinator for support and to help keep your story complete.

If you’ve already established care with a primary care provider, many appointments will likely be a symptom-specific appointment. Thus, during your appointment, share your relevant symptoms and health history, focusing on getting answers and solutions to your top-priority concerns. Don’t forget you can always share about your emotional health since this also influences your physical health. Be honest; holding back information that you feel may be embarrassing could endanger your health. You can start by asking the questions you prepared before your appointment, and begin with the questions that are most important to you. If your doctor does not ask you if you have questions, ask your doctor when the best time would be to ask them. Remember, each appointment is booked for a specific time slot for a particular reason. Timing for diagnosis of a condition versus your yearly wellness exam will be different. The questions you may want to ask will depend on whether your doctor gives you a diagnosis, recommends a treatment, medical test or surgery. Don’t be afraid to consult the front office staff to make sure the prescribed treatment plan is covered by insurance before you start. Receiving a bill with a total you’re not prepared for can be overwhelming.

Don’t be frightened to ask questions about things you find unclear. Doctors want to know what you’re thinking and if you understand what they’re telling you. If a treatment plan is recommended, the doctor should explain what it would do for your health issue, how long it should take to work, the recovery from surgery, and possible complications. It’s up to you to weigh the benefits against the risks, and doing that sensibly requires that you understand the treatment plan. The doctor might have to be prompted to offer alternatives, one of which is choosing to do nothing. Remember, you always have the option to seek a second opinion.

Before leaving your appointment, make sure you’re clear about what you need to do on your end and find out if and when you should return for another visit and clarify any next step. Ask questions about any referral you receive. You should always repeat what the doctor has told you to be sure you understand and ask for clarification if needed. It’s unlikely that all of your health issues will be addressed in one appointment. Don’t leave if you’re uncertain about your diagnosis or treatment plan. Ask for written instructions, brochures, or websites that may help you learn more.

What you should expect from your doctors is respect, a comfortable environment for conversation and examination, careful and non-judgmental listening, expert advice, and balanced opinions. In almost all circumstances, there are multiple options for treatment. While scientific studies may drive a physician to recommend a particular course of treatment, you can expect to have a rational answer to the question, “What other options do I have?” Set clear expectations about the recommended treatment plan. By following these tips for before, during and after your doctor’s visit, you’ll walk into your appointment feeling confident and ready to engage in productive dialogue, and you will be well on your way to taking control of your personal health care journey.

For more information call Southwest Medical Group, General Surgery at 970-565-6670 or visit online at