Doctors’ visits are stressful. No one goes to see a physician for the fun of it: We go because we are concerned about our health (or that of our loved ones) and we want either reassurance or treatment to restore it.
Unfortunately, because of stress, discomfort, or the effects of medication that we’re already taking, it can be difficult to get what we need from our doctors in the frustratingly short time we spend with them during our appointments. Not only is this dissatisfying, it can be dangerous as well. Misunderstandings about what we should be doing and when as far as treatments and medicines are concerned can lead not only to our not getting better, but also pose serious health risks of their own.
Here are some strategies you can use to prevent these risks and get the most out of your next doctor’s visit:
■ Take notes during your visit, or better yet, have someone else take notes for you. Writing down the information and instructions you receive serves many important purposes. It allows you a reference source to return to later if you’re not clear as to what exactly you’ve been instructed to do (take medicine X every six hours and medicine Y every eight).
It also slows down what can often be a rapid-fire delivery of unfamiliar terms interspersed with jargon that’s difficult to fire. Finally, it allows you to sense in real time whether or not you understand what you’re hearing. If you are unable to summarize what your doctor is telling you, there’s a good chance you haven’t understood it, and this is a great prompt to ask for clarifications.
■ Bring a printed list of all medications you are taking (along with their doses) to your visit. The list should contain the names of medications or other substances you are allergic to or have responded badly to, so that if a new medication needs to be prescribed, there is less likelihood of an adverse response. In general, it is a good idea to keep this list on your person at all times, as it is not always possible to predict when it might be needed, especially in an emergency situation.
Dr. Dennis Rosen is a pediatric pulmonologist practicing in Boston, and the author of a new book, “Vital Conversations: Improving Communication Between Doctors And Patients.”