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How To Help Your Doctor Help You

You and I both know you are not a human Bento box.

Trying to “unpack” your health experience by neat

packages of symptom categories is not what the average

person has been trained to do.

Your physician, on the other hand, has been trained to

conceptualize and diagnose health issues based on

gathering symptom information in a specific way.

Why Your Doctor Is On A Laptop

Due to changes in legal requirements related to

Electronic Medical Health Records, your physician

(or someone in her office)

also likely now has to enter all your health

information into an electronic health record.

You may already have had the experience

of your doctor spending a certain amount of

your appointment typing away at a keyboard

instead of getting to look you in the eyes or

examine you.

You Can Help Your Doc

Providing information to your doctor in the

way I am about to show you will allow your

doctor to get that information more quickly,

allowing her more quality time to spend

with you in the precious

7-13 minutes per patient that she has.

Why make her spend 4 minutes gathering

data that could be spent

answering your important questions later

in the appointment?

Simply know that you can make it easier

for your doctor to understand what’s important

to you if you will take the time to

prepare the information about your issues

well before you find yourself sitting in the exam

room in that fashionable paper dress.

Questions To Ask Yourself First

1.  Why Are You Here Today?

How you’re going to prepare for your doctor

appointment all depends, of course, on the reason

why you’re seeing your doctor in the first

place, so let’s start there.

Is this an annual checkup?

A follow-up appointment to see how a specific

medication or treatment plan is working?

Or is this an appointment because there is a

new set of symptoms you’re experiencing?

2.  What Do You Want To Happen?

You should ask yourself:

What am I most concerned about?

Are you just wanting to know what a certain set

of symptoms mean?

Do you just want them to go away?

Are you afraid you have cancer?

Whatever is most concerning to you, that’s

what you need to be sure you address with your

doctor as clearly as possible.

Say exactly what you mean:

“I’m afraid these symptoms may mean

I have cancer.

What can you do or tell me that will

let me know it’s not?”

Is there anything…a symptom, a medication

side effect, a part of an existing treatment plan

…that is not acceptable to you?

If so, you need to use this exact language

with your doctor.

Say this:

“The side effects of the medication you

prescribed are not acceptable to me.

We need to find an alternative.”

“The level of pain I’m in on a daily basis

is not acceptable to me.

We need to develop a plan of treatment

to address this.”

“I’ve had these symptoms for over six

months and it is not acceptable to me

that they continue indefinitely.

We need to address them.”


If your doctor knows Why You Are Here and

What You Would Like To Have Happen,

there are still no guarantees.

But with improved communication, hopefully

a plan of treatment to address your issues

can be developed with your input.


The Simple Two-List Plan

I recommend you take the time to type up

and print out two pieces of paper.

Make a copy of each for your doctor.

Your doctor may put them in your file,

or scan them in, make notes on them and

keep them or hand them back to you.

Mine has done all of these things.

Basically, you want to be sure you have one

copy to keep in a file to refer back to,

even if your doctor keeps one.

Take notes on the one you’re going

to keep for yourself.

1. The Prescription List

You’re going to make a list of medications

and supplements that you can save and

update as necessary.

Include all medications and supplements

you take, the dosages, when you take them,

who prescribed them and for what diagnosis,

the dates you started taking them

(and stopped if you no longer take them),

and any side effects you experience.

Also list any allergies or negative reactions

you have had to any medications.

Yes, that’s a lot of information.

But it will be invaluable to you and

your doctor.

You will not remember this information

over time, especially if you take more than

one or two prescriptions.

And your doctor is required to get this information

from you, anyway.

Make it easier on yourself by handing her this paper.

2. The Symptom/Question List

This paper has two parts.

The top part is a symptom list.

This is where you make it easy for your doctor

to get a lot of important information by

listing all the symptoms you’ve been

experiencing, for how long, and with

what severity.

The bottom part is where you list

no more than 3 questions

you want answered before you leave

the appointment.

Limiting yourself to 3 questions doesn’t

always lend itself to the reality of your

health situation.

But try to understand that your doctor

(and your insurance company)

needs to be able to address basically

one health issue per visit.

So, if possible, try to keep the questions

you have related to one set of symptoms.

Don’t Be A Passive Patient!

One of your questions should be

“What is the plan of treatment going

to be and how can I help make it work?”

In case it isn’t obvious yet, you’re not a passive

patient, you’re an active participant working

as a member of a team with your doctor to try

to address your health issues.

Your doctor isn’t there to “fix” you.

It doesn’t work that way.

Asking what you can do to help ensure

success with your treatment plan will probably

help your doctor know you are on board with

managing your health and may even lead

to better discussions about what you can do

to help yourself.

At the bottom of the page, include if you

need any prescriptions refilled,

along with the name and phone number

of your pharmacy.

Yes, your doctor probably has this information

somewhere in your medical record.

Yes, you should take the extra step to make it

easy for her to get your prescription called in.

Your doctor is going to love you for doing all of this.

You get “patient of the day” and a gold star on

your chart.

It’s Worth the Time

Taking the time to think about what you

want before you head to your appointment,

writing down or updating your prescription list,

and having a list of symptoms and questions

relevant to the appointment will make all the

difference in:

how health information is gathered about you,

how your doctor can use her time with you,

and ultimately what you can get out of of a very

limited amount of time with your doctor.


This post is also my answer on Quora to:

What can I do as a patient to get the most accomplished in the limited amount of time I have with my physician during a doctor’s appointment?

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