Preparing for Your Medical Appointment

preparingWe all know that our health depends most on the things we do every day: what we eat, how active we are, and how we manage stress. There is another piece of the healthy living formula that people rarely consider. It is your role as the leader of your health care team.

Your health care team includes your primary care providers, any specialists you see, and the nurses who work with them. It also includes your pharmacist, dentist, physical therapists, and others. The most successful patients communicate well with their team members and ensure that everyone has the information they need to provide the best care.

One skill crucial in communicating with your team is preparing for your medical appointments. Follow the helpful guide below and use the worksheet available here to get the most out of your next health appointment.

Know your condition. Some conditions can be complicated. In many cases, the key to managing a chronic disease rests on learning more about it. What are the causes? What makes it better? What makes it worse? Ask your provider for trustworthy online resources. In addition, classes or consultations are often available, sometimes right in your provider’s office.

Share your history. Make sure your provider has your whole health history, including how your health or living situation has changed since your last visit or whether you are having a hard time following their recommendations. Share if you have received any new diagnoses from the other medical providers you see, and don’t forget to tell whether you have been in the hospital or Emergency Department since your last visit.

List your medications. Prepare a list of your prescription medications and over-the-counter or herbal supplements you take. It is helpful to include the dose, what the medication is for, and how well you think it is working for you.

Gather your questions. Take note of your questions for your provider. The National Patient Safety Foundation recommends each patient understand the answers to these three questions before leaving their appointment: What is my main problem? What do I need to do? Why is it important for me to do this? Getting the answers to these questions will distill the information and help you keep yourself healthy.

Set a goal. Consider setting a realistic, measurable goal with your provider. Defining your aim will help you achieve greater progress. Telling your providers about your goals will allow them to offer the tools you need to succeed.

Take notes. While at your appointment, use the backside of your preparation form to jot important notes. If there is something you do not understand, ask. Still unsure, ask again. There is no shame in getting the information you need. Keep asking until you have it. If you feel understanding may be difficult for any reason, bring a trusted friend or family member with you so you are certain to get the information you need.

Spending just 15 minutes (or even less) preparing is likely to yield benefits that far outweigh the small investment in time. By embracing your role as your health care team leader, you are in the best position to use the knowledge and skills of all of the professionals available to you. Together, you can make and follow the best plan for your health.

Jennifer Fels, MS, RN, is the director of Bennington Blueprint. For more information, contact “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.