MEETING with health care professionals, such as doctors and nurses, can sometimes be confusing. They may not give you time to ask questions. They may speak in words people only learn in medical school. They may or may not tell you why you are being given a particular medication prescription.
On the other side, you might have an important question to ask before you go to your appointment, but you forget to actually ask it during the appointment. You may think of a question you want to ask – but only after you’re back at home after the appointment. Also, your body may feel different after the appointment, and you may not know how important that change could be.
How can you and your family make sure that you make the best use of everyone’s time during your next health care visit?
Understand the pressures on your health care professional
Many, if not most, health care professionals are under a lot of pressure. They may be running a business, hiring and training new employees, filing their taxes, or they might not be feeling well themselves that day.
The average face-to-face visit between a doctor and a patient is less than 15 minutes. That time limit often results in a visit where the health care professional is motivated to get to the “primary concern” of the patient as quickly as possible. Physicians in one study listened for an average of only 23.1 seconds before jumping in and “redirecting” the conversation away from what the patient was saying.
Because of the many pressures that health care professionals face, it makes sense for you to plan ahead for your next visit, so that you can get the most answers and make plans that will be the most helpful to you.
Tips for preparing for your or your family's visits with a health care professional:
• Write down your questions before you go to the appointment, so you won’t forget to ask something important.
• Make a list of any bad things you may be feeling, such as stomachache, fever, or feeling sad all the time.
• Make a list of all the medicines you are taking. Be sure to include the amount of medicine (such as number of pills), as well as when, how, and why you take the medicine. Bring all the medicines and supplements, like herbs vitamins, or other drugs that you take.
Here are some additional ways you can be a champion of your and your family’s health:
1. Bring a friend or family member to your health care appointment, and ask that person to help you remember to ask questions and also take notes for you.
2. Be open and honest with your health care professional.
3. Tell your health care professional anything new that you have been doing, such as eating differently, taking any new medicines or drugs, or beginning a new exercise program.
4. Tell your health care professional about any big life changes, such as moving into a new house, the death of a close friend or cherished pet, a new romantic relationship, or anything else that has caused you stress. Remember, stress can be the result of very sad or very happy things that happen.
5. Take notes! Write down the answers to your questions, as well as anything else you need to remember. If possible, bring a trustworthy person to take notes for you.
6. Teach back. Repeat back what your health professional has said and check if you’ve understood correctly. Do this check by asking the health care professional to repeat something that you may not have understood or heard correctly.
7. Ask when you should come back for another appointment.
8. Follow up. Try to do what the health care professional recommended. Call back if you are confused about any instructions or information, if you don’t feel better, or if you have new symptoms.
9. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion from another health care professional to clearly understand the problem and to understand all your treatment choices. Ask your health insurance plan, local hospital, medical society, or medical school for ideas about whom to contact. You can also go online to DoctorFinder at http://dbapps.ama-assn.org/aps/amahg.htm.
Become an active, informed, and prepared champion of your own and your family’s health and wellness whenever you visit with a health care professional. These professionals may be experts in their fields and they may know a lot about you already, but they still need your help. The more you are prepared for your next visit, the better off you will be.
Good health is the result of a good partnership between you, your family, your neighborhood and community, and your team of health care professionals. Engage them all in your efforts to live a happy and healthy life.
This is the first of a two-part series on improving communication between patients and health care professionals.
Next week, CRISP will present Part 2 of this two-part series "Who's in charge of your health care visit?"
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