When you visit the doctor, you’re understandably nervous. You’re half naked, worried about your health with undercurrents of mortality issues swirling in your mind as well. Perhaps after reading this, you’ll have an idea how to frame your visit and how to prepare for it, and you’ll feel more reassured about going to the doctor.
Important: you should expect to be treated respectfully and fairly by your doctor. If not, find a new doctor! The increasing brevity of visits to busy doctors should not diminish the importance of your visit to you or to your doctor. Even though you may be very nervous (and who isn’t? And remember: doctors themselves often are notoriously anxious patients), don’t feel small or humiliated. Don’t be afraid to be honest about your personal life (weight issues, sexual relations, drug use, psychological stuff); your doctor owes it to you, out of respect and professionalism, not to make judgments about you. Usually, at the end of the exam, your doctor will ask about your questions or concerns, so write them down in advance and during the visit itself, so that you can be sure to cover your issues. Because your doctor is busy, she/he will possibly expedite the interview with directed questions, so don’t be offended by these interruptions. When you walk out of the doctor’s office, you should leave with a clear idea about the status of your health, your problems and your treatment options. Not only that, but you should have a good feeling how to how to improve your health and some resources available to accomplish this. If you are given a prescription, your doctor or someone in the office should explain how the drug or therapy works, how and when to take it, and its side effects. Also, don’t be afraid to ask how much the prescription or therapy will cost, and if it is covered by insurance (the front office can help you with this). You should leave feeling confident about the quality of your care and the commitment of your doctor.
What can you do to make the visit work best for you? Most importantly, understand that your doctor wants to work together with you to keep you healthy. Be confident and respectful. Prepare in advance. If you have a specific problem, write down some sort of concise narrative, almost as though you were constructing a story. For example, if you have a pain, describe when it started, its character (sharp, dull, localized, diffuse, radiating, spasmodic or constant, etc), what makes it better or worse, its temporal qualities (when did it start, is it worsening, etc). Are there other accompanying symptoms, such as fever, swelling, nausea, weight loss etc? Any change from your normal state of being might be important. Think hard! Organize your thoughts, so you can succinctly and confidently relate them to your doctor. If you prepare in advance, your visit will be more productive.
Be honest. Relate openly your personal life if you or your doctor think them to be relevant. Remember that the goal is to help you and that the interview is confidential. Try to know your family medical problems and it’s really important to know the medicines that you are taking. It’s a good idea to keep them recorded on your phone or better, somewhere in your wallet. If you’ve not been taking the medicines as prescribed, fess up! It’s important to be honest; your doctor might be a bit chagrined, but so what? You may have important reasons (side effects, cost, cultural) for not following the prescription that your doctor would like to hear. Either way, it is imperative your doctor know so that he/she knows what's going on in your body to diagnose/prescribe accordingly!
If you have a serious problem or any doubts about your care, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. This is now routine and often recommended. If you ask about this respectfully, your doctor will be happy to refer you to another doctor. And, do research on your own too (on reliable web sites or even doctor manuals/text books, what have you)! That never hurts.
If you feel good about your visit and your doctor, be sure to thank her/him. It’s your sign that you and your doctor have connected and can work together. Doctors like to know that their work is appreciate too.
A visit to the doctor is a kind of mirror of who you are. It’s an anxious, often troubling moment when humanity, honesty and mortality converge in a simple, perhaps banal, exam room. Remember to give the occasion, your doctor and yourself the respect they all deserve.
Dr. Martin went to medical school at UCSF. He has now retired from his long and brilliant career as an anesthesiologist, now playing guitar and making bread on his spare time. Dr. Martin and three associates have started a delicious commercial wine, MC4. For those who are 21 and older, I advise you to check out MC4-- cheers!