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
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.
“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
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
The bottom part is where you list
no more than 3 questions
you want answered before you leave
Limiting yourself to 3 questions doesn’t
always lend itself to the reality of your
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
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
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: