Even if your doctor was the smartest doctor in the world, she could not know everything about everything in medicine. Medicine has become much too complicated. But, if you are ready for your visit, your care will be better for everyone. The average doctor’s visit lasts only 10 minutes. The Boy Scouts are right: “Be Prepared.”
While there are many parts of the exam, four of the most important parts are:
- The Complaint
- The Diagnosis (what is being considered)
- Tests (to figure out the diagnosis)
- Treatment (and choices)
I. The Complaint
This is why you are coming to see the doctor. What hurts? How is it bothering you? Since you only have a fragment of the 10 minutes to cover this, it is important to get it right. Be organized.
On a sheet of paper, BEFORE you go to the doctor, answer these questions:
- What hurts — head, toe, belly?
- When does it hurt — all of the time, in the evening, morning, certain situations?
- What kind of pain — sharp, dull, pounding, constant, intermittent?
- Time: How long does it last — seconds, minutes, always?
- Specifics: Is there anything which makes it better or worse? Does anything happen with it — vomiting, can’t urinate?
This way, you can walk in and say that you have intermittent headaches, which come on at the end of the day, are sharp, like a knife, last an hour, not relieved (or are relieved) by aspirin, and you do (or don’t) feel like vomiting.
II. The Diagnosis
When your doctor is talking about what he thinks might be wrong with you, you need to ask questions to figure out what he is thinking so that you understand the full picture.
You want to ask:
- What are the top three things that you think might be wrong with me?
- How are you going to sort them out?
- Do I need to see a specialist?
The doctor often asks for some blood, urine, EKG, and radiology tests in our new world of medicine. These usually are routine, and together they form a picture. But, WHERE you get a test can often determine the outcome. Usually, they want THEIR OWN radiologist (or someone with whom they have worked) to read the test. This is also true when a biopsy (small piece) of you is sent to a pathologist. These pieces of information, and who interprets them, are as important as your doctor. These are the INVISIBLE DOCTORS who will affect your care.
You want to ask:
- Is it important for me to get the test at a specific lab or hospital?
- Do you want the biopsy read by the pathologists at a certain hospital?
- Is there a best place to get my stress test, mammogram, etc.?
Do not underestimate the importance of this step.
Your doctor is going to make a suggestion as to what and how you should do your treatment. BEFORE you do anything, understand the choices, and find the best choice for you. Sometimes when you have committed to one plan of action, it is difficult to turn the battleship around. It is important to lay out a plan.
UNDERSTAND what is going to happen. WAIT until you do to go further. Ask QUESTIONS.
You want to ask:
- What are my choices?
- Can you make an order of treatment choices (least difficult to most complex)?
- What are the side effects of my choices?
- What are the consequences of my choices?
- Would you suggest (or do I want) a second opinion on the treatment (IF it is complicated)?
- I want YOUR answer. What would you suggest if it was your mother? (Sometimes the answer that is right for you might be slightly different, based on your life and how you live it.)