The definition of “to prepare” is to make ready beforehand for a specific purpose, to put in a proper state of mind. Among the benefits of preparation is a reduction of fear and anxiety, an advantage that helps you to share information openly and listen more effectively.
The primary responsibility for preparing for a physician appointment is yours. After all, you would never show up at a business meeting without thinking about it ahead of time.
I prepared the same way I do for my client meetings. I created a written agenda that outlined expectations for my appointment and I shared it with my doctor at the beginning of the visit. Here’s what it looked like:
* To develop a trusting relationship with a new primary care physician
* To establish health goals for the future
* Why I selected a new primary care physician and why I chose you
* Communication methods within your practice – How do I communicate with you between appointments? Who are your fellow team members? How do you work together? What can I expect from you and your practice when I call here? How do you follow-up on diagnostic testing results?
* Past medical history (I had a written list)
* Current healthcare issues (Included on my written list)
* Preventive care
* Healthcare goals
Plan of action/next steps
While I guarantee that most physicians will be surprised to receive a written agenda, I assure you, they will appreciate your thoughtfulness and efficiency.
I was fortunate that, while I was changing physicians, I was staying within the same healthcare system. That meant my new primary care physician had online access to nine years of my medical records. I had my own paper copies, so I knew all that had been written about me and I even knew of a few inaccuracies that I planned to correct.
Although our healthcare system is making great strides in the development of Electronic Health Records (EHR), you can’t always count on consistent accessibility. That’s why I suggest that everyone create their own personal medical file by requesting relevant medical records from primary care and specialist physicians you’ve seen in the past. I keep these in a three-ring binder with tabs; a low tech but handy resource. When establishing a new healthcare relationship, I always make sure to share copies of what is not readily available electronically.
In my case, I brought along records from a specialist I had recently seen. I also prepared the following:
List of Medications including:
- Current medications prescribed by physicians
- Over-the-counter medications and supplements taken regularly
- Medications taken on an “as needed” basis
- Previously prescribed medications
List of Past Healthcare Issues including:
- When the condition occurred
- Who treated it
- How it was treated at the time
- How it is currently being addressed
List of Current Healthcare Issues
Keep It Simple
Although there are some great electronic tools available for keeping track of your medical information, I believe the best system can often be the simplest. I recommend to my clients that they use a system they feel most comfortable with. A three-ring binder, a Filofax or even a box of index cards can do the trick!
For me, Excel spreadsheets are a convenient way to store important summary information. I can make edits easily and print revised documents when necessary. My templates include my name, date of birth and allergies on the top, and date of printing on the bottom.
High Expectations -> Amazing Results
It is my heartfelt belief that every healthcare professional you encounter should assume the role of teacher, sharing his/her insider knowledge and guiding you as to what to expect. After all, accessing healthcare can be an anxiety-provoking experience.
Here’s what happened as I entered my new physician’s office:
A live person who, happily, was not hidden behind a glass window pleasantly greeted me at the reception desk. Quickly and efficiently, she verified the insurance information that I had provided electronically. Then she went on to describe what was going to happen next: my physician’s assistant, Mary, would soon escort me into an exam room and gather more information from me, including height, weight and vital signs, and she would review my medications.
Mary called my name, introduced herself and her role, and shook my hand. As she edited my medication list in the electronic medical record, she expressed great appreciation for the comprehensive written list I provided. I had just made her job a little bit easier.
After weighing me (my least favorite part) and taking my vital signs, she told me the results so I could make a written note. Then she asked that I change into a gown and sit on the examination table to await my physician.
Instead, I politely stated that I preferred to be dressed while I met my doctor in person for the first time. After all, although I had done my homework and felt confident about my selection, I would only know if I had made the right choice after we talked. So, I remained fully dressed and positioned myself in a chair that would put me at eye level with the doctor, thus facilitating two-way communication.
As it turns out, my new physician was all I had hoped for!
Before she entered the room, she had reviewed the documents I prepared. After shaking my hand and introducing herself, she stated our agendas were in sync. We began our discussion touching on each of the items I outlined. She listened effectively and we had a healthy discussion through which I learned many new things. She backed up her recommendations citing research and, so I could continue my own education, she suggested online resources about several topics.
Feeling very comfortable and satisfied with how things were going, we moved forward to the physical examination. Before the visit was over, we had an action plan, all my questions were answered, and we summarized our accomplishments.
I now have a physician partner to help promote my health, prevent disease and manage my medical issues. I left with complete confidence that if I ever became ill, I would immediately turn to this competent and kind professional. As I left, I asked myself, “Why is it you delayed making a change for so long?”