You leave your doctor’s office, wondering what happened. You had a ton of things to ask her, but somehow you only remembered a few of your less pressing concerns during the visit. Worse still, you forgot to tell her about that new medicine you’re taking.
That frustrating scenario is one that far too many of us experience. St. Elizabeth Physicians Family Practitioner Dr. Esther Saalfeld knows. She sees it all the time. From patients who forget their medication lists to those who can only vaguely describe their symptoms, communication problems in the doctor’s office can really get in the way of an accurate and timely diagnosis. That is particularly true these days, when primary care physicians, like Dr. Saalfeld, are typically seeing about 34 patients in a rushed eight-hour day.
The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to vastly improve communication with your doctor and, as a result, the care you receive. At the top of the list? Preparation.
Dr. Saalfeld says if all patients would take a few moments to think about their medical issues ahead of their visit, the results would be dramatically improved.
"I recommend that patients actually make a list of the issues they’re having before they come in," says the veteran Taylor Mill doctor.
"Keep it simple and brief, and pick out two or three of the most important things to discuss at that visit. I’ve found if people do this they’re able to be more succinct, they don’t forget anything and the problems are a lot easier to address.
"The other thing they must do is to bring a medication list or the medications themselves. That is huge."
Six Questions to Ask Before Your Visit
The list is a great beginning, but it’s not all you need to think about before your visit. Saalfeld said you should also try to quantify and qualify your symptoms. But, skip the online research and self-diagnosis. Saalfeld said that usually doesn’t help.
Instead, spend the time before your office visit thinking about, and even jotting down answers to the following questions:
• How, specifically, does the problem I’m having feel?
• Where, on my body, is it centered?
• When did it start?
• What makes it better or worse?
• How intense is the pain, on a 1-10 scale?
• What medications am I taking and what are the dosages?
Saalfeld emphasized that the more specific you can be about your symptoms, the better. But, it’s likely you’ll only have time to discuss two or three issues during a typical office visit. Schedule another appointment if you have additional concerns. Finally, take writing materials to your appointment so you can jot down your doctor’s instructions.
What to Do if You Have Questions After Your Visit
Questions remain sometimes, even for those who’ve prepared well for their visits. That’s one reason St. Elizabeth Physicians doctors increasingly recommend that their patients enroll in the new electronic medical record system called MyChart. The online personal health information tool allows patients to send things like follow-up questions and refill requests directly to their doctors at any time, via computer. It also keeps record of all St. Elizabeth test results and physician visits.
If, however, you don’t use this system and must follow-up with your doctor about non-emergency issues by phone, physicians recommend that you:
• Call early in the day
• Leave a one-sentence description
• Provide symptoms and dates
• Have medication and pharmacy information handy
Physicians are as busy as the rest of us. But, like Dr. Saalfeld, their joy comes from quick and accurate diagnoses that get their patients back on the road to health quickly. By following a few communication pointers, you can help your doctor do just that, well into the future.
"Really, the biggest problem physicians have is when patients are vague about the problems they’re having," Dr. Saalfeld said. "The more information you can give us, the better and more quickly everything goes, and the more we can really get an idea what’s going on and get you feeling better."
AUTHORED BY: Shelly Whitehead with contributions from Dr. Esther Saalfeld
Editor’s Note: This is a special advertising section provided by St. Elizabeth Healthcare.