Tips + Questions to Ask for Better Doctor's Appointments
In an ideal world, each of us would feel like our doctor was giving us the best care, regardless of how busy they are or how confusing our symptoms might be. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially when the healthcare system is under a lot of pressure and is consistently understaffed.
Though it should be the doctor's office's responsibility to treat each patient empathetically and seriously – and if that isn't happening it may be worth seeking a second opinion and setting up IBD care with a new practitioner – patients can also change the atmosphere in the exam room with a few tips.
Better communication, better IBD care
Here are some tips from my personal experience as someone living with ulcerative colitis.
1. Write everything down
Bring a breakdown of your medical history, a log of symptoms, and a list of questions.
Documenting as much as you can ahead of time will help you in the appointment itself. Most doctors will ask about your medical history if you've never met them before. Or if you're having a follow-up with a doctor you already know, they may ask you for a log of symptoms. It's often good to have a sense of the following:
In order to create this log, you may want to monitor yourself for 2 weeks before your appointment, so that you can note any trends.
You should also note down any questions you can think of ahead of time. Doctors usually leave time for questions during the appointment, but it can be hard to remember what you meant to ask on the spot. Having a list of questions to refer to will be helpful and will show the doctor that you are prepared. Make sure to take notes about the doctor's recommendations in the same notebook or digital document so that you can refer back to everything together when looking at the appointment summary later on.
2. Bring a loved one to your appointment
Bringing a loved one to an appointment is a great way to get support, as well as a way to have another witness in the room. In my experience, doctors are often more patient and thoughtful when they feel like they are being observed by someone other than the patient.
Inviting a family member or friend to come with you may:
- Ensure better care
- Give you company during any long waiting periods
- Create an opportunity for someone else to take notes and pay attention to important details
- Give you someone to check in with if you feel you were mistreated during the appointment
3. Always ask about next steps and why they are being done
Sometimes doctors will try to rush patients out of the room. Try not to let this happen to you. Before you leave your appointment, make sure to find out what the next steps are – whether that is doing more tests, changing medications, waiting on insurance, or just monitoring symptoms.
Some good questions to ask are:
- What is our plan going forward?
- Can you explain why we're moving in this direction?
- What should I be keeping an eye on, and what kinds of symptoms would indicate that I need to call you or go to the ER?
- What kind of timeline should I be expecting for test results and/or medications to work?
- When do I need to follow up with you and will that appointment be scheduled today?
By asking these sorts of questions you will know what to do in the future, and your doctor will know that you are committed to a long-term care plan with them.
4. Use words like "we" and "us" as much as possible
As you go through your appointment and follow up with your doctor as needed, try to remember that the 2 of you are meant to be a team. While some patients see doctors as an enemy for a variety of often valid reasons, it can be tough to have a productive conversation when coming in with this attitude.
Instead, focus on the idea that you and your doctor are trying to solve a problem together and you both have different kinds of expertise that you can bring to the situation. Your approach to the appointment may change, as may your doctor's. For example, you may use phrases like:
- How can we handle this?
- What is next for us?
- How do we feel about the progress so far?
If you aren't happy with the care at your doctor's office, it is always worth trying to have a conversation with them or even switching doctors. However, with a few tweaks to your approach, you may find your appointments will go more smoothly.
How open are you about being diagnosed with IBD?