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Coping With Busy Doctors

Getting more from our appointments with busy doctors

By

Updated: September 12, 2006

Doctor and Patient

We're all familiar with the problems

    • There aren't enough doctors for those of us with headache and Migraine problems.
    • It can take months to get an appointment with a specialist.
    • Doctors have limited time to spend with each patient.
    • Sometimes, the best of practitioners come across a bit brusque and uncaring, even if they're really not.
    • Sometimes we feel that the doctor has rushed in and out of the exam room, didn't really listen, and we didn't get a chance to talk or ask questions.

How can we get the most from our appointments with these doctors?

Be an active participant in your care

Who knows the patient best? Who spends the most time with the patient, has the best opportunities to observe symptoms, success or failure of treatment regimens, the total effects of the patient's illness? The patient. The most important member of your healthcare team isn't your doctor — it's you.

Educate yourself:

Learn all you can about your condition. As you learn more, you'll know better what to expect, what to tell your doctor, etc. Also, learn about your medications. Your pharmacy should give you a patient information sheet with each prescription. Don't hesitate to ask questions at the pharmacy either. Your pharmacist is part of your healthcare team. In one of our online chats, Dr. William B. Young of the Jefferson Headache Center commented, "An informed patient is a better patient... I'd rather have a treatment partner than a dishrag."

Be observant and document, document, then document some more

    • Between appointments, be sure to note symptoms, reactions to medications, and other details. Also make note of questions you want to ask your doctor to help you remember them at your appointment. The more information you can give your doctor, the more benefit you'll get from your appointments.
    • Keep a note pad anywhere you might need one to make notes immediately so you don't forget details.
    • Along the way, transfer your notes into a word processing document so you can print it to take to your appointments. It's a good idea to leave space to make notes.
    • If your appointments are for headache and Migraine problems, you can print a diary or download it for use on your own computer by clicking HERE. The downloadable version is available for use in Word or Excel and can be modified to suit your preferences. It can also be adapted for other conditions and other doctors.
    • If others around you notice things that you don't notice, ask them to tell your or make notes for you also.

Go to your appointments organized and well prepared

    • If you take many medications and/or supplements, start a document on your computer, and list each of them, the dosage, the condition for which you take it, and any other pertinent information. Keep the list updated, and always take a copy to any medical appointment you have. This helps ensure that your medical records are complete and correct and reduces the amount of time spent reviewing them at your appointment. It's also a good idea to keep a copy of this document with you at all times. That way, if you unexpectedly need emergency care, you'll be able to provide accurate information, regardless of the circumstances.
    • Print two copies of your documents that you're taking to your appointment. That allows you to give a copy to your doctor and keep a copy in front of you to make notes and ensure that you don't forget anything. Having this printed information will not only help you remember everything, but will help you be more concise when talking to your doctor. When we're concise and can keep the conversation going without many pauses, the appointment takes on a momentum. This can alleviate the possibility of a busy doctor thinking we're through with our discussion.
    • Review your documents just before the appointment to make things fresher in your mind.
    • If you find asking your doctor questions to be difficult for you, rehearse it with a friend before the appointment.
    • Don't hesitate to take someone close to you with you to your appointment. This can serve multiple purposes:
      • Much information can be packed into a short appointment. They can help you remember and interpret what was said.
      • If this person doesn't understand your condition or isn't as supportive as you need them to be, this is a good opportunity for them to learn.
      • When we're ill, our emotions can lead us to misinterpret comments or read things into them. Having another person there is a good way to objectively review the appointment afterward.
      • Sometimes it can be good to have another concerned person there to express their thoughts and concerns to your doctor. It often reinforces what you've said.
    • If changes are made in your treatment regimen, remember to ask your doctor when you should experience results.
    • If you don't already know, ask your doctor how to get answers to questions that need answered between appointments.
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