Prevention & Recovery

How to get the most out of your doctor's visit

Photography by John Hryniuk Image by: Photography by John Hryniuk Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

How to get the most out of your doctor's visit

1. Do your research, but consider the source
Many patients turn to Dr. Google before going to see a physician these days. Sometimes this is an effective strategy that helps you to be more informed. Indeed, it can be good to do a bit of reading beforehand to gather information. It's important, however, to always consider the source, and to read with a critical eye.

Not all websites are equal. Most university-based and institutional websites tend to be reliable. Some nonprofit disease-oriented organizations offer accurate and timely information. But it isn't always clear who is financing the many other sites out there. Steer clear of blogs and chat rooms, where there's no telling fact from fiction. And if you're unsure of the source, ask your health-care provider to recommend additional resources.

2. Make a list… and prioritize it
Compile a list of the symptoms and questions you want to discuss with your family doctor; put the items you're most concerned about at the top. Patients often leave the most important concerns for last, but this can leave you rushing through a critical or complex issue. If the list is long, ask for an extended appointment when you book so that the doctor can do your concerns justice. Make sure you start the appointment by telling the doctor about your list. He or she might want to take a look at the beginning to ensure there's ample time to address any potentially serious issues.

If this is your first appointment about a particular concern, prepare a brief symptom summary (half a page is great!) that includes a timeline of when the symptoms started, a description of them, what makes them worse and what provides relief. Bring copies of medical test results or an emergency room discharge summary, if applicable.

3. Don't be afraid to share your craziest concerns
We've all heard about patients who, convinced they have a brain tumour, are diagnosed with a migraine headache. The lesson is: If you have a particular concern, name it. Often, patients (especially those who have consulted unreliable Internet sources) are worried about worst-case scenarios. If you don't ask, your doctor might not consider the possibility, and she certainly won't be able to reassure you if your concerns are unfounded.

4. Make a lifelong commitment
Like any relationship, the doctor-patient dynamic requires work. Don't hesitate to ask for what you need, then listen carefully to the response. Think of this as a long-term commitment to working together on your health. And remember, all long-term relationships occasionally have rough patches. If your doctor upsets you or seems to be having a bad day, ask yourself why you were dissatisfied with the appointment.

Communication gaps can be addressed and bridged over time. If the diagnosis worries you, a second opinion may be in order.

5. Understand how our health-care system works
Beyond the walls of your doctor's office, there is much our health-care system does to support your health. First and foremost, it promotes accessible, team-based primary care for all Canadians. Studies show that people who have strong, long-term relationships with health-care providers are likely to be healthier than those who jump around to different providers. And the days of family doctors, black bag in hand, doing it all by themselves, are no more: Nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, dietitians and other health professionals who work alongside family doctors may be better positioned to deliver the care you need, when you need it. This model allows us to reach more people and to deliver higher quality care overall.

For more health advice from Dr. Martin, check out 4 ways you can keep your family safe during March break

This content is vetted by medical experts

                                              
This story was originally titled "Checkup Checklist" in the April 2014 issue.
           
Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

1. Do your research, but consider the source
Many patients turn to Dr. Google before going to see a physician these days. Sometimes this is an effective strategy that helps you to be more informed. Indeed, it can be good to do a bit of reading beforehand to gather information. It's important, however, to always consider the source, and to read with a critical eye.

Not all websites are equal. Most university-based and institutional websites tend to be reliable. Some nonprofit disease-oriented organizations offer accurate and timely information. But it isn't always clear who is financing the many other sites out there. Steer clear of blogs and chat rooms, where there's no telling fact from fiction. And if you're unsure of the source, ask your health-care provider to recommend additional resources.

2. Make a list… and prioritize it
Compile a list of the symptoms and questions you want to discuss with your family doctor; put the items you're most concerned about at the top. Patients often leave the most important concerns for last, but this can leave you rushing through a critical or complex issue. If the list is long, ask for an extended appointment when you book so that the doctor can do your concerns justice. Make sure you start the appointment by telling the doctor about your list. He or she might want to take a look at the beginning to ensure there's ample time to address any potentially serious issues.

If this is your first appointment about a particular concern, prepare a brief symptom summary (half a page is great!) that includes a timeline of when the symptoms started, a description of them, what makes them worse and what provides relief. Bring copies of medical test results or an emergency room discharge summary, if applicable.

3. Don't be afraid to share your craziest concerns
We've all heard about patients who, convinced they have a brain tumour, are diagnosed with a migraine headache. The lesson is: If you have a particular concern, name it. Often, patients (especially those who have consulted unreliable Internet sources) are worried about worst-case scenarios. If you don't ask, your doctor might not consider the possibility, and she certainly won't be able to reassure you if your concerns are unfounded.

4. Make a lifelong commitment
Like any relationship, the doctor-patient dynamic requires work. Don't hesitate to ask for what you need, then listen carefully to the response. Think of this as a long-term commitment to working together on your health. And remember, all long-term relationships occasionally have rough patches. If your doctor upsets you or seems to be having a bad day, ask yourself why you were dissatisfied with the appointment.

Communication gaps can be addressed and bridged over time. If the diagnosis worries you, a second opinion may be in order.

5. Understand how our health-care system works
Beyond the walls of your doctor's office, there is much our health-care system does to support your health. First and foremost, it promotes accessible, team-based primary care for all Canadians. Studies show that people who have strong, long-term relationships with health-care providers are likely to be healthier than those who jump around to different providers. And the days of family doctors, black bag in hand, doing it all by themselves, are no more: Nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, dietitians and other health professionals who work alongside family doctors may be better positioned to deliver the care you need, when you need it. This model allows us to reach more people and to deliver higher quality care overall.

For more health advice from Dr. Martin, check out 4 ways you can keep your family safe during March break

This content is vetted by medical experts

                                              
This story was originally titled "Checkup Checklist" in the April 2014 issue.
           
Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

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How to get the most out of your doctor's visit

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