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Getting the most out of your doctor visits

Each time you see your doctor, you hope to get the most out of the visit. However, when you step into your doctor’s office there’s a lot of pressure to get as much done as possible in those precious 10 to 15 minutes. So, what can you do to make the most of your doctor visits?

In two simple words — be prepared.

That’s according to Wayne Every, a Registered Nurse Health Coach with Moda Health. He says preparing for your appointment can make a big difference in the time you spend with your primary care provider.

“Being prepared is huge,” he says. “Health is confusing; it’s complicated. The truth is there’s a lot that most of us will never grasp. That’s why even before you get to the doctor’s office, it’s important to be prepared with the little things.”

He says being prepared can help you clearly articulate important questions you may have about your health and can put you in the right frame of mind to remember everything your doctor says. On the flip side, when we’re unprepared we are often left with more questions than answers.

“We’re lucky to remember 30 to 50% of what happens,” he says. “Between big words, diagnoses, medicines and terminology, a lot of times we walk out of the doctor’s office wondering, ‘What just happened?’ ‘Do I need to pick up a prescription?’ ‘What are the next steps?’ Personally, I have white-coat syndrome. Even though I’m a nurse and I’ve worked in the healthcare field for years, I still feel my blood pressure go up in a doctor’s office. I’m nervous. I forget half of what I was going to say. It if happens to me, it probably happens to a lot of us.”

Preparing for your visit
There are several things Wayne recommends people do before stepping foot in their doctor’s office, including:

  • Create a list of questions: Jot down a list of questions you want answered. You may not get to every question, so prioritize the list by starting with the most important stuff. That way you get answers to the most important ones. If needed, you can schedule a follow-up appointment.
  • Arrive early: Running late creates stress. Getting to your appointment early helps reduce stress and allows you to collect your thoughts before your visit.
  • Stay hydrated and have a snack: When you are hungry or thirsty, you can get flustered and may not think clearly. Having water and a small snack handy can help settle your nerves and keep you calm.
  • Bring your insurance information: You are often asked for your insurance card when you arrive, even if you’ve provided it to them before. Also, having a list of other doctors you see and what they are treating you for is important for your doctor to know.
  • Bring a list of your current medications: Write down a list of medicines you are currently taking. You can also bring your pill bottles to help your doctor better understand what you are taking, how often, and if there are any drug interactions.
  • Have a family member or friend go with you: There’s so much that happens in a doctor’s appointment that it can be overwhelming. Having someone by your side to listen, take notes, and possibly record the conversation can help you remember everything that takes place during your visit and ease your anxiety.
  • Don’t be afraid to say something wrong: Many of us have a fear of saying the wrong thing or feel like we are being judged. Wayne says it’s important to have the power to speak up. It will help your provider better understand your health conditions and provide you with the best treatment plan possible.
  • Have a follow-up plan: Part of maintaining good health or managing a health condition is what you do when you are not in the doctor’s office. Making sure you have a follow-up plan when you leave the office is essential to doing what you can to stay healthy.
  • Ask for an after-visit summary: Getting a summary of your visit before you leave the doctor’s office can help you remember everything you talked about. It will help you remember what you need to do, details about your prescription medications and next steps. This will also give you some ownership of your plan.

Finding the right provider for you
Along with being prepared, Wayne says having rapport with your doctor is important. He says there’s a power differential and struggle when talking to doctors. Historically, patients see doctors as authoritative figures. They find it tough to question them. As a health coach, he’s an advocate of patients finding the right provider that works for them.

“The key is to make sure if feels like the right fit,” he says. “Lots of people are looking for a provider that’s more collaborative, who shows empathy, and who can validate your concerns and normalize what you are going through. Other folks just want to be told what to do. That’s OK, too. It’s important to go to a doctor’s visit as though you are interviewing them and determine if they are the right person you want to stick with for years to come.”

Finding the right provider, Wayne says, is critical to getting the right care for you.

“Healthcare is a service we pay for, so we deserve to get the most out of it,” he says. “If you don’t like what you are getting, it’s perfectly acceptable to do some doctor shopping. We think of our homes and cars as some of our most valuable possessions, but what’s even more valuable is our bodies and our health. So, why would we settle for less? Like with any relationship, not all people gel well together. I always encourage folks to keep looking if they don’t feel like it’s a good fit.”

Leveling the playing field
Wayne added that one of the keys to finding the right care for you is to level the playing field in the doctor’s office. He encourages members and providers to get to know one another, learn about each other’s expectations and goals, and work together to achieve effective treatments and solutions.

“Leveling the playing field and empowering folks to make their own decisions are huge factors in what people are looking for in a doctor,” he says. “When doctors are open to collaborating with you to find a plan that works for you, that’s when you’ve leveled the playing field. You can just feel it. When you have a provider that empowers you to help come up with a plan moving forward. It feels good knowing your provider has your back.”

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