It's important to get the most out of your doctor's appointment, but it can be difficult when most doctors are only able to spend about 15-20 minutes with their patients in a normal visit. Much of that time is taken up with paperwork. So, here are three strategies to make the most of the time.
1. Prepare for your appointment and bring the right paperwork
You want to make sure you arrive prepared to give your doctor a snapshot of your current medical condition, without bringing binders full of old test results. The tools listed below can help organize your thoughts and ensure you bring the most pertinent information to your visit.
Symptom Log - A detailed description of your primary symptoms and what you've been experiencing recently. You can keep this log for a week prior to the visit, noting the severity of the symptom. This can give your doctor valuable clues as to what's going on. Download the PelvicSanity Symptom Log here!
One-Page Summary of Recent Tests - Your doctor likely won't have time to look through your entire medical file, but a brief one-page summary of recent tests and their results can provide valuable information and ensure that your doctor doesn't call for a test you've already done.
One-Page Summary of Medications - This summary should include both your current and past medications. Let your doctor know about how well they worked and side effects that you experienced.
2. Set Clear Goals for your Appointment
Your doctor will often start off the appointment with a simple question:
“So how can I help you today?"
This shouldn't be a rhetorical question - you want to have thought out the answer before your appointment. That way, you know exactly what you're hoping to get out of the visit and can make sure that goal is met before the appointment ends. Some common reasons for a visit include:
Diagnosing an unexplained symptom
Starting (or changing) medication to take care of a symptom
Fine-tuning your medication to maximize benefits while minimizing side effects
Dealing with a breakthrough flare of pain
Referral to another medical practitioner for more specialized treatment
Make sure you know exactly what you're hoping to get out of the appointment before you ever step foot in the lobby
3. Speak the Doctor's Language
It's important to remember that your doctor is seeing dozens of patients each day. Communicating quickly and clearly is vital to getting the most out of your appointment.
When we're in pain, it's difficult to present information objectively. But your doctor will likely respond better to a more dispassionate statement like 'it's usually a 7 out of 10 pain, but spikes higher after prolonged sitting' than 'it's so terrible - it's the worse I can imagine.' Both of those statements are equally true, but your doctor is much less likely to dismiss the objective statement, particularly if it's accompanied by a detailed symptom log.
Story-telling is another area where you can lose time in your appointment. Sharing with the doctor how the symptoms are limiting your daily activities is important, but try not to engage in long stories with details that may be relevant to you, but not necessarily to your doctor in trying to diagnose your condition.
“Your relationship with your doctor should feel like a partnership, where you feel comfortable sharing both your symptoms and ideas. There will always be trial and error in finding the right medications and dosages, so having that sense of partnership is crucial."
- Nicole Cozean, PT, DPT, WCS, CSCS
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. One of only 270 PTs to be board-certified in the pelvic floor, and the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, Nicole is the author of the acclaimed and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University. The PelvicSanity blog focuses on presenting practical, positive information to help patients beyond the walls of Nicole's clinic.