After dragging your malfunctioning body out of bed, through a car journey that makes you want to hurl before you’ve even set foot in the germ filled waiting room of your doctor’s office, the last thing you want is for the appointment to go badly. You’re chronically ill and in pain, being around people, noise or just being upright is making you feel worse and you’re simply not up to having to battle your doctor to get anything useful from the appointment. It goes horribly and you walk out on the brink of tears from frustration and despair. You then go home and spend a considerable amount of time recovering from the outing, all the while blasting the particular health professional to your friends and family.
I’m the first one to enjoy a bit of light-hearted banter involving non serious threats of violence and the graphic description of exactly which household items I’d like to shove where the sun doesn’t shine. I’ll be the first to the Ranting Party and could probably win a prize for the longest piece of angrily written prose with the most varied swearing vocabulary.
However, when the dust has settled, you’re still left with a crappy appointment, so it’s best for everyone’s mental health if we all share our hints and tips on how to have better appointments in the first place. We may not be able to change the system, but we CAN change the way we act in, and react to our appointments.
This is the stuff I’ve learned;
1. Do your research
So you don’t have a post-graduate degree in molecular biology or pharmacology? Big whoop. If you can read then you can read about your conditions yourself thanks to the wonders of the internet. The doctor might have read a bunch of books and passed very long, difficult exams while refraining from using the bathroom for ages, which, as impressive as it is, it’s not living inside your body 24/7. You know a whole lot of stuff too. You should have just as much say as they do about what happens to you, but you can only have an informed opinion if you’ve done some reading on the subject. Just try to keep it based on accepted fact from trusted medical sources.
2. Take lists
Always take with you a written list of your symptoms, medications and reactions to those medications. It sounds obvious but people are often afraid of the doctor’s reaction to a patient reading from a list. Trust me, if they’re a good doctor, they’d rather you came prepared and give them as much detail as possible rather than only telling them half the story because you’ve gotten flustered and forgotten things. The doctors who don’t like you to have lists are the ones you need to avoid. Don’t forget to also bring any new test results, letters from other medical professionals or anything else that might be relevant. Don’t assume they’ll already have them on file, because that would be assuming everyone does their job properly and we all know that doesn’t happen.
3. Take notes
Take notes of any medical terms, medications, or things you need to do before the next appointment. Not only does it mean you won’t forget things (duh) but it’ll make you seem more of an active participant in your healthcare and give your doctor faith that you’re willing to put the effort in and try their suggestions.
4. Take someone with you
Besides being your chauffeur (a girl can dream..) and being a shoulder to cry on if it all goes wrong, having someone with you in appointments makes a huge difference. On a primitive level, it means you’re outnumbering the doctor, which either consciously or subconsciously will make you feel more empowered. A doctor will less likely say something rude or offensive if there’s a witness, and you have the benefit of having another person to help you remember details of the appointment.
5. Be nice
I know this is a strange and slightly obvious point, but when you’ve been around the block a few times it’s easy to walk into an appointment already in an aggressive fighting-for-your-life mode. Doctors are (apparently) people too and when someone comes in all raaarrrr they’ll just go into defensive mode and that’s the end of your productive appointment. It doesn’t hurt to throw them a compliment, make a joke or otherwise engage with them on a friendly one to one level. Let them know you respect them and value their opinion (even if you don’t). A flattered doctor is more likely to want to help you. Mention your partner/kids/job, make sure they see you as a person and not just a bunch of symptoms. Smile, say please and thank you and all that jazz. Basically fostering a good working relationship with medical professionals will help you in the long run.
6. Be firm
Set it out straight what you would like and how they can help. Have solutions ready for any reasons they might come up with for why they can’t do what you’re proposing. If there’s firm evidence to back up one test or treatment over another, bring it with you and ask them to take a look at it before your next appointment. They might just put it in the bin of course, but they also might read it.
7. Be specific
It’s been socially drilled into people to downplay your suffering, but sitting in front of a doctor isn’t the time to do it. If you’re going through hell, tell them, don’t say you’re managing when you’re not. If you’re experiencing dizziness, don’t just say dizziness because that’s subjective, give an example of something that’s happened due to the dizziness like falling over or not being able to drive safely. They’ll take you a whole lot more seriously.
8. Be realistic
Your appointment is only so long, and the person behind the desk only has so much experience, knowledge and can only act within very narrow guidelines a lot of the time. Go into the appointment aware that you may not get everything out of it that you were hoping for or have time to discuss everything. If you’re the kind of person to lose their temper or get very upset, have a strategy in place for what you’ll do to cope with the disappointment.
9. Give positive feedback
If your doctor has been really helpful or kind, make sure you tell them so they can bask in the warm and fuzzies. Helping people is probably why they went into medicine in the first place and good doctors are worth their weight in gold. Telling doctors when they’ve done a good job means they’ll carry on helping you and it might even lead to them being able to help even more people in the same way.
10. Get a second opinion
Don’t be afraid to switch doctors if you’re not a happy bunny. Doctors are only human, they can make mistakes, they might not have the right area of expertise for your issues or you may just not gel with them. You have the right to see someone else and there are always ways to do so. Connect with patients in your area who have been through the same problem to find out how to switch or what the alternatives might be.