Dos and don’ts for your next visit to the doctor

Visiting the doctor may seem to be yet another task on your long to-do list. Being prepared and avoiding common mistakes can help you get the most out of your doctor’s appointment, and even avoid repeat visits about the same concern. Not sure how to go about doing this successfully? Follow these dos and don’ts to help make your next visit to the doctor run as smoothly as possible.

What to do

  1. Start with your most serious health concern first. A typical appointment is 10 to 12 minutes — just enough time for your doctor to assess and thoroughly analyze one health problem. You can always share any additional concerns with your doctor if time allows. Bring a list of all prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements or herbs that you are taking. This can help your doctor understand your health history, and will better guide them in properly managing your health concern.
  2. Have an advocate and take notes. An advocate can be anyone you choose to accompany you to your appointment. Right now, with COVID-19, it might not be possible to bring along a friend or loved one if you are expecting to receive test results or a new diagnosis; however, you can have them on speakerphone. This person can be your second set of ears, and can even take notes and ask questions on your behalf. If you choose to be by yourself, be sure to take notes so you can easily refer back to them should you forget important details from your visit.
  3. Talk about family illnesses. Discuss any existing illnesses or new diagnoses within your immediate family (e.g., father recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s). This information is more important than you may realize, as it can indicate if any preventive measures or screening tests should be performed.
  4. Bring along relevant research. If you have found reliable medical information about your health concern and have questions about what you have learned, bring this information with you too. Your doctor can clarify any points and answer any questions you have. Try to limit yourself to a few key documents so that your doctor does not have to sift through large amounts of information.
  5. Ask for clarification and repeat important information. Medical professionals may become so familiar with medical terminology that they can easily forget that you may not understand them. If you are confused about what your doctor is saying, just ask them to explain. You may also repeat the information your doctor has shared with you to make sure that you have understood everything clearly, and that you haven’t forgotten any important details.

What not to do

  1. Lie or lie by omission. There is no benefit to lying to your doctor or withholding important information from them. Your doctor is asking you questions about issues that are relevant to your health concern. They will assess your condition and determine your treatment based on what they assume to be truthful responses. The information you share at your doctor’s appointment is confidential, and your doctor’s job is not to judge you, but to help.
  2. Talk or text. Answering a call, responding to work emails, or sending text messages will only distract you from your health concern(s) and put a stop to productive communication between you and your doctor. You might forget to relay certain concerns or risk frustrating your doctor due to your lack of attention, perhaps leading to an improper assessment.
  3. Be embarrassed. Although some health concerns may not be topics we are comfortable discussing, it is often helpful to remind yourself that doctors have probably seen and heard about a wide range of health issues. Don’t be afraid to talk about your health concerns, symptoms and behaviours openly, including mental health problems (e.g., stress, anxiety, etc.) and sexual health habits. Remember, your doctor is there to help.
  4. Settle. If you feel unsure about the advice your doctor has given you, or are uncomfortable with their treatment recommendations, it doesn’t hurt to explore other options. Consider getting a second opinion. Remember, you are in charge of your health.

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