Doctors and other healthcare professionals can support a variety of diagnoses in incredible ways – but they are not mind-readers. They are often involved in research or education and have many other patients to balance – as well as their own personal lives outside of work.
They do not instinctively know our baseline, our history, our values, our sensitivities, or our priorities. They only know what we share with them – and this is our responsibility. Preparing for medical appointments can take a bit of work but is critical – whether it is the first time meeting a new provider or a follow up visit.
It is important to first set the stage for understanding. Is there a time of the day where you feel less rushed or more able? Do you require sensory devices like eyeglasses or hearing aids that need to be used for the appointment? Would it be helpful if someone went with you to the appointment to take notes or help in other ways?
There may be things you need to organize or know before the appointment. Are there forms which can be completed beforehand to reduce stress at the appointment? Do you have your current concerns written down with as much supportive information as possible? For example, some will say “I am having issues with my memory” instead of explaining how the changes are impacting their life, if there is a time of day when it is worse, in what specific ways the changes are surfacing, and what may make it worse. The abbreviation AEB (As Evidenced By) is used in documentation by providers – but should be a reminder to us all that describing the symptom or concern with as much detail as possible is critical to receiving proper care.
There are several things which will be very important for the provider to be informed of during the appointment. These can include the basics such as insurance information, a medication list, current symptoms and any noted changes, other doctors involved, recent hospitalizations, etc. We should also share things like changes to appetite, falls/instability, or sleep. Losses in our lives which also affect us such through a death of a loved one or moving to a new living situation are important to share as well. Also, bring up topics that may feel uncomfortable or challenging such as changes to sexual drive, mental health, safety concerns, bowel issues, or pain.
Remember, providers are only able to provide guidance, assistance, support, and treatment for things that we share and make a priority. It is our responsibility to make known what we need and to be fully prepared for any appointment to make use of their expertise and our time with them wisely.