Tips for Making the Most of Your Next Appointment

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Dr. Mirgain on NBC-15

Dr. Shilagh Mirgain discusses how you can make the most of your office appointment during a recent NBC-15 interview. Watch the interview


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Madison, Wisconsin – Going to see the doctor can be stressful, even if it is just a routine visit. It is common to feel anxious, and even unprepared for the appointment. But beyond the anxiety, there is a very real issue that patients can be left feeling like their issues weren't addressed, or even worse, they don't recall what was actually discussed.


"Research shows that patients leave appointments understanding only approximately 12 percent of what the doctor said," explains Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, health psychologist with UW Health. "That can be very problematic, particularly if there are instructions or other follow up the patient needs to do."


In order to get the most out of each appointment, Mirgain offers a few strategies to help you feel calm, prepared and focused.


Reduce Office Visit Stress


Most clinics generally ask that you arrive 10-15 minutes before the appointment time. Mirgain suggests making the most of that time by performing a few simple stress-relieving exercises while waiting.


"As you are sitting in the waiting room, try remaining calm and focus on taking slow deep breaths," she suggests. "Another option is when you are brought back to the room and are waiting for the doctor, use the time to center yourself. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, taking the time calm down and be present in the room."


Plan Ahead


Whether you are seeing the doctor for a routine visit such as a wellness exam, or because of a specific condition, prepare in advance of the appointment. Some items to consider:

  • Compile a list of your current medications
  • Write a list of any questions or concerns you may have, including what prompted the appointment
  • Make notes of your pertinent health history, including any health concerns such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, stroke or diabetes that members of your immediate family may have

For patients who have MyChart, there is a field that allows them to keep private notes. Consider using this feature to keep a running list of your questions or concerns. Mirgain notes that the time spent with the physician is generally 10-20 minutes during the appointment, so staying focused is important. The less time you spend trying to remember all the things you wanted to cover during the visit, the more time available to discuss options. Not only should you consider prioritizing your questions, but let your provider know that you have questions you'd like to address.


"I recommend letting your provider know at the start of the appointment that you have questions and why they are important," comments Mirgain. "Don't wait for the physician to ask if you have questions."


If you forget to ask a question or have new questions, often you can contact your physician's office after your appointment. You may even need to schedule another appointment to address additional concerns. Just remember, phoning the clinic or sending a message via MyChart (if your clinic uses it) are the two most effective ways to communicate in a timely manner for non-emergency questions.


Don't be Shy


Sometimes during appointments, it can be easy to feel intimidated, particularly when providers are using unfamiliar terms and technical jargon. And that's when it is particularly important to ask for clarification.


"Your healthcare team is there to help you, so don't hesitate to ask questions if you don't understand something," says Mirgain. "You may need to slow the conversation down in order to understand what is being said."


At the conclusion of the appointment, summarize the visit in your own words so the provider can hear your interpretation of what was said.


"Consider taking notes during the appointment to help remember key points. It can also help to bring a friend," suggests Mirgain. "Having the additional perspective can assist you in remembering what was discussed."


And don't forget to ask for the after-visit summary that many clinics print out. It will often contain information that was discussed during the visit. Understand the Recommendations At the conclusion of the appointment, you should have an idea regarding:

  • What is the diagnosis or the problem being addressed?
  • What is the diagnostic or treatment plan?
  • What do you need to work on before your next appointment (med usage, exercises to do, activity level)?
  • What is the downside if you don't take action?
  • If medication is prescribed, what is it for and exactly how and when to take it? Is there a generic version to take?
  • What are the risks and benefits of all treatments or surgical procedures?
  • What is the best means to communicate in the interim before a follow-up appointment (phone-call to clinic/nurse/mid-level, MyChart, etc.)?

Keep in mind that many clinics run as teams now, and the follow-up may be with a Physician's Assistant, Nurse Practitioner, Physical Therapist, Psychologist, or Nurse in the clinic, not necessarily with the physician.


Educate Yourself


The time you take to learn about your medical condition and your treatment plan is an investment in your own health. If you receive a diagnosis, ask for additional resources to learn more about your health condition including reliable web resources, and even local support groups. Preparing ahead of time and being proactive during and after the appointment will go a long way in having a productive medical appointment and taking charge of your health.

Date Published: 10/23/2013

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