Preparing for Your Doctor’s Appointment

Sascha GallardoOctober 13, 2020

Getting the most out of your consultation with a doctor for a rare disease is already challenging. Now that we are also dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenge has been doubled.

Considering the difficulty of getting an appointment and the risks associated with going to a hospital and being exposed to the virus, it is important to be well prepared and accomplish everything that’s needed and avoid further appointments as much as possible.

Below are some tips that you might find useful for your consultation.

  1. Prepare your medical history.
  • Symptoms/complaints. What are your complaints or the symptoms that you are experiencing? Make a list of everything, even the most seemingly unimportant ones, including when you started experiencing them and how often. Do you notice the symptoms after eating certain food or doing certain activities? Do you experience them usually at nighttime or daytime?

  • Existing conditions. Also, if you have existing conditions, put them on your notes as well as when they were diagnosed, the medications you’re taking including the dosage and the other treatments you currently undergo.

  • Previous surgeries. Have you had surgeries in the past? When were they conducted and what for?

  • Allergies. If you have any allergies, put them on your list and describe exactly what happens.

  • Past medications. Also take note of any medications that you have stopped taking and the reason why you no longer take them.

  • Recent blood work and other tests. Have you had any tests recently like radiology? Include them in your notes, the dates, and the reason why they were requested.

  • List of doctors. Who are the doctors you have consulted in the past? Take note of their names, what you consulted them for, their clinic addresses, and telephone numbers.

  • Medical records. Ideally, bring your medical records from previous consultations. If you don’t have them, it would be good to request a copy from your previous doctors, make a duplicate copy, and organize them in a binder with clear pockets. Getting all your records, however, might take a while and would require you to fill out request forms so it would be better to prepare them in advance.

  1. Ensure that your concerns will be addressed and properly recorded.

Going out of the doctor’s clinic and then suddenly realizing you forgot to ask a couple of questions or forgetting what the doctor explained can be frustrating. To avoid this, prepare the following before your appointment:

  • An audio recording device. Having an audio recording of everything that you have talked about during the appointment will definitely be useful. You can go back to it to verify information and ensure you are following instructions correctly. Before the appointment, test the audio recorder, make sure that you’re using fresh batteries, and that you have enough space in the memory card.

It’s possible that you don’t have an audio recorder other than your mobile phone. This is also an option but you might want to set it on flight mode before your consultation, charge the phone, check the memory space, and test it beforehand.

  • A pen and a notebook. Whether you’re bringing an audio recorder with you or not, it is still a must to have a pen and a notebook during your appointment. First of all, in the event that your recorder malfunctions (which can happen), you still have a record of the things that you have talked about. And even if it works properly in the end, you will still find your notes useful when you review the audio recording. You might have to skip listening to some parts and with your notes, you would have an idea which part of the recording you’re looking for.

  • List of questions. Before the appointment, make a list of all the questions that you would like to ask your doctor. Write them down in bullet points so you can easily tick off each one. You might also want to leave some space in between questions where you can write notes.

Pro tip from co-ED Clasina: Make two copies of your list of questions, and give one to the doctor as an “agenda”. This makes it less likely that items will be missed or you will “chicken out” of discussing a touchy topic for you.

  1. Aside from the items listed above, remember to also bring the following:
  • Your driver’s license or any government issued ID
  • Insurance card or information
  • Necessary insurance referrals

Now that you’re ready for the doctor’s visit, just a reminder that your doctor is working for you. In case you feel that they are not listening to your concerns or if you have doubts on their recommendation, you can always look for another doctor, someone you can trust and are comfortable to work with.

1 Like

Hi there - thanks for bringing up this important subject again here!

It may be different elsewhere, but here for all these theoretically good ideas there would would be practical limitations, making workarounds necessary… from my experience with 50 docs in about 25 specialties in 2 years…

  1. it’d take an extremely ideal doc to be interested in and able to take in all that information, so even more important than the full list is a sensible selection: For a new PCP/GP all of these areas may be of interest, but it’d still be too much for them, so it’d be a waste to not focus. In each area only the seemingly most important aspects should be mentioned, whilst further appointments would be necessary to add the others. For most docs incl. them not every diagnosis, just main conditions, only important surgeries, only recently stopped meds, visited docs and medical records would be important. For most specialties only certain symptoms, surgeries, allergies, meds, blood work, previous doctor lists and medical records are of interest.

In my experience most docs will get quite a bit of it wrong (visible in their reports and notes if we get to see them), and that gets worse the more information they have to process.

Giving them all information at once would also make us feel they should know all of this, which will usually end in disappointment. They will not let on that they don’t know it all, so we assume that they do.

  1. Here, recording a conversation without asking is illegal, and I hope it is everywhere else too. And even if I had the chuzpe to ask, I think most docs will not comply/agree to it.
    I use my phone for notes before and during. Sometimes laptop, esp. with a doc I know and for instance to show them charts of my symptom diaries.
    Docs have never wanted to see my overviews on paper, they want me to tell them in words, but Clasina’s idea of just the questions might work, good idea!

The reminder that my doctor is working for you is a good way of putting it. I often say they are serving us, rather than us serving them. So for mental hygiene I like the expression “I fired my doc”, altho I’ve never really used it myself, because it feels more like just leaving than actually firing. But it shows how we might think of it, as a sorely needed empowerment image, esp. when we feel gaslighted by them.