I’ve learned how to make the most of doctor’s appointments by preparing ahead of time and speaking up about what I need.
Someone once told me, “You are your best advocate, and if you don’t advocate for yourself, no one will.”
Self-advocacy is easier said than done, especially because doctor’s appointments can be daunting. When I was first diagnosed with psoriasis, I often found myself feeling so awkward and embarrassed at visits that I would try to get out of there as fast as I could. When I rushed through visits, I would leave feeling like I didn’t fully benefit from it.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a few tactics that have helped me make the most out of doctor’s appointments by preparing ahead of time and asking for what I need.
Trust me, you will forget everything you planned on asking once you enter that high pressure situation. Even if you’ve been waiting for the day to arrive, nerves can take over, you can get distracted, or your mind can just go blank.
Ahead of your appointment, take some time to sit with a notepad and think through what information you want to leave the appointment with.
Think about what information would help you understand and treat your condition more effectively. Write down any questions you come up with.
In the appointment, you can take out your notepad and check them off as they’ve been answered. Don’t leave until you’re satisfied. Make sure all your questions have been answered in a way that you understand.
Having a list to follow also helps me focus, calm my nerves, and reduce my stress level.
If you’re like me, you might hold off going to the doctor until your symptoms get to an attention-demanding state. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, but by the time you get a consultation date with that specialist, your symptoms may have improved.
On two separate occasions, my psoriasis went into full remission, while I was waiting for my appointment. By the time I saw the specialist, I had no marks to show.
You want to be able to show them your psoriasis at its worst and how it’s improved. You can document your progress by taking pictures at each stage. This can be helpful information to share with your doctor, regardless of when your appointment is.
Use a daily diary to identify what your psoriasis reacts well to and what aggravates it. Make note of any changes you see and anything that may affect your psoriasis, like:
At the end of the month, review your notes to see if you notice any patterns or if you can isolate a cause to your worsening or improving symptoms. Discuss these observations with your doctor at your appointment.
I can’t count the number of times I sat in consultation rooms (that I was paying hundreds for), feeling rushed by the health professional. Sometimes, it feels like the doctor has somewhere to be, and I am holding them up.
This can be especially frustrating if you also had to wait a long time for an appointment. Take the time you need to get out the information you want to know. Get your money’s worth.
Bring a pen with you, or ask for one if you forget, and write down what the doctor says. The information may seem clear in the moment but sometimes can all feel like a blur afterward.
If you don’t understand something, ask for further explanation. I promise you won’t sound stupid. A lot of the information that’s thrown at you will be littered with medical and scientific jargon that can be hard for anyone to understand.
Ask the doctor to explain it to you in words you’ll understand. Don’t leave the visit questioning something or wishing you had gotten clarification.
I have made this mistake too many times, and I find myself straining my brain to remember a specific term my doctor used.
Hold your cards close to your chest. Don’t reveal too much, too soon.
In my experience, if I don’t know what questions to ask, I won’t get the information I need. At the same time, if I appear to know too much, health professionals may respond in a dismissive tone and try to undermine the validity of my Google search.
Bring up your findings naturally, gradually working them into the conversation. If you want more backup, print out your findings to show they’re from reputable sources. It can help your doctor understand where your questions are coming from.
If you are not happy with your current product regimen, seek out other options. Researchers are always developing new products or improving existing treatments. Don’t feel disheartened if you have not yet found one that works for you.
There may be more options available now than the last time you checked. It’s possible that your doctor will know about new options that are better suited for you and your lifestyle.
Your doctor may be able to suggest treatment options that you’re unaware of, or have not yet tried.
Ask about the process of using any products the doctor recommends to you.
I’ve found there can be gaps in communication between my medical practitioner, the pharmacist, and me regarding how to use the products I have been prescribed.
On more than one occasion, I left the practitioner’s, brought my prescription to the pharmacy, and took it home only to find no usage instructions included.
Vague terms, like ‘try this,’ are thrown around in a consultation without further explanation.
You might be wondering things like:
I have two bottles of unopened, expensive topical treatments in my bathroom that I have been too scared to apply, but too embarrassed to contact the clinic to ask for clarification. As they say: If you don’t ask, you won’t get.
It can take time before you feel confident advocating for yourself in doctor’s appointments. It can help to prepare in advance of appointments and come to the visit with a checklist of what you hope to accomplish. Think through what you want to bring with you, what you want to show your doctor, and what you want to ask your doctor.
An open line of communication that makes you feel confident is important to have productive visits with your doctor. In turn, this can help you work with your doctor to find a treatment regimen that works for you.
Fact checked on May 27, 2022
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