I hear a lot of complaints from other patients on how difficult it can be to work and communicate with physicians, especially given how short appointments often are now. I work with physicians for a living, so I get their side of it too – they have a lot of pressure to hit certain benchmarks and have a certain number of patients, etc.
Docs don’t like the current system any more than patients do.
Short of overhauling the whole system, which is a great idea but a topic for another day, what can patients do in order to get the most from physicians?
First things first, an initial appointment with a provider can be quite difficult. There is so much to cover and examine, especially for us that are chronically ill, that we often stick with that provider with little examination of that choice.
The first appointment with a provider should be treated like an interview.
Yes, there will be things that have to be covered, but you have the power to guide the conversation and, indeed, make it a two-way conversation rather than a one-way dictation on their part.
- Ask them what they know about your current diagnoses and the medications you’re on.If they don’t know much, are they willing to learn? If not, hightail it out of there!
- Make sure they are willing to communicate with various providers.My rheumy works with my PCP, ophthalmologist, and my dentist. My PCP in turn works with everyone else. This way, my PCP and rheumy are all on top of what is going on with me. It allows them to know much more about my personal care than I could really tell them.
It also helps my dentist know when to pre-medicate for dental procedures.
- Ask about their feelings on involvement in patient organizations like the Arthritis Foundation.My rheumy is on the local AF board. Many others are at least somewhat involved with chronic illness organizations. Ask them which ones they like and why – it could lead you to more resources.
Likewise, you can help your physician learn about great organizations out there, too.
- Ask about their feeling on utilizing technology to communicate versus phone calls.I love MyChart. So much. As someone with anxiety, phone calls are not my favorite – and if I’m not doing well, the last thing I want to do is wait on hold and then leave a message and then wait for a call back from the nurse, who has to talk to the doc…
If your doc loves MyChart and you do too? Go for it! If neither of you does, that’s fine too.
The most important thing is to set up the main communication method.
- Ask how they feel about engaged patients bringing in information for them to review.If you’re the type of person who likes to read the latest medical journals for new research and medication information and your doctor doesn’t like that, you won’t be a good fit for each other. It’s neither bad nor good, just an incompatibility.
- Bring someone with you.If you’re having a bad brain fog moment, having another person at your appointments really helps.
It can especially help because we really only take in a small amount of what is discussed at an appointment, no matter how our brain fog is doing.
What I do is text my hubby right as I’m leaving my appointments. It helps me go over main points and allows me to scan my brain for others things that were discussed.
- Prepare for visits.I’m a list person. So many lists. Very write.
What I do to prep for my appointments is I’ll look back over my social media for the last few weeks to see how I’ve been doing publicly versus how I think I’ve been doing. The reality is I’m always slightly worse than I think I am in the moment, so checking social media helps.
Then I write down on a little half sheet of paper the basic topic with some trigger words. I might even print out a blog post if it seems like it will help.
Some people use diaries. Others write on their calendars or use apps.
Whatever works for you, make sure you bring topics to address and don’t let the doc go until you’ve hit all the topics on your list.
- Tape record or videotape visits, with the consent of your provider.Not all physicians will be down with this and it’s certainly something you need to discuss. However, I know many people whose physicians will record appointments so that brain fog and memory issues don’t get in the way.
This is also handy for showing loved ones how the appointment went and ask for their help on certain tasks.