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7 Things Your Doctor Wants You to Do Before Your Next Appointment

Understand your risk factors for disease and what you can do about them.

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How to Prepare for a Doctor’s Appointment

These days, family medicine is a bit under siege. There are so many factors contributing to this, including an aging population with greater medical needs, as well as patients who are surviving with heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes but who need more care, more drugs and more time. Combine that with a shortage of family doctors across the country and medical students choosing to practise as specialists and you’ll start to see the problem.

To manage, most family doctors are booking patients every 10 to 15 minutes for a routine visit and slightly longer for a more-thorough assessment. Some of us have hired nurse practitioners and medical assistants to help with the volume and day-to-day management of patients, especially those with certain chronic diseases. Nonetheless, time is a luxury, and doctors don’t have an endless amount of time to spend with their patients.

That said, I feel that my patients and I are partners on the same team. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why I went into this profession: I appreciate collaboration. We may need to huddle and review the plays before going forward. We may bring in the special teams, coaches and other players. But the bottom line is, we are a winning team, and I’m with you all the way!

Teamwork is key. There are things you can do, too, to ensure a satisfying visit with your GP. Here are some of my suggestions.

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Please Be on Time

Yes, docs are often running late, but some emergencies are unpredictable. I start early, at 7:30 a.m., and if my first couple of patients are late, I’m going to be running late for the whole day. That’s frustrating for me and for the patients who follow.

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Don’t Piggyback

Generally, a visit is for one or two problems. Let’s say you booked an appointment for a Pap test. OK, so we can chat about contraception and STI prevention, too, but I can’t also discuss your stress at work and the status of your children’s immunization schedule. Those are distinct issues and they need separate appointments. I don’t want to shortchange you on the discussion, nor can I properly assess all of those complaints right at the moment.Of course, you deserve attention for these issues, but book an appointment; don’t piggyback on what was scheduled as a Pap test.

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Lead With the Important Stuff

Don’t make an appointment for a rash when what you really want to talk about is a suspicious lump. If I spend time counselling you on eczema, handwashing and steroids, only to have you say “By the way, I think I have a breast lump” at the last minute, it adds more pressure and distress than is necessary for both of us. Don’t be afraid to tell the most important point first because the other things can wait.

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Bring a Clear List of Your Medications and Dosages

The best way to do this is to bring the pharmacy printout or the bottles themselves. Many patients have various specialists prescribing medications to them, some have been seen in the ER with medication changes and others may not have been seen for a while – all factors that can contribute to misunderstandings or medication errors.Furthermore, what’s been prescribed by your family doctor may be changed to a generic medication by your drug plan with a totally different name. Let’s not wastetime playing “Name that drug!”

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Do the Legwork

If you were supposed to do tests, ultrasounds or blood work for our visit, don’t wait until the day before your appointment and then feel frustrated when the lab hasn’t sent the results yet. This is out of my control and it is time-consuming to chase down verbal results that haven’t been processed by the other facility yet. Along the same lines, we can’t review your cardiac risk if you didn’t get your cholesterol blood test done.

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Take a Team Approach

Sometimes things aren’t clear. I need to think about the issues, the symptoms and the next best step. I feel your frustration at not getting a clear, quick answer, but, realistically, this is the art of medicine, and I am listening to you. If I book an appointment with you in seven to 10 days to review, it’s because I am being careful, not cavalier, about your health. We are partners on the same team, and we may need to huddle and review the plays before going forward.

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Be Patient

Sometimes things are very clear and, despite the specialist’s discussion, I know you need to talk about this. I understand and will call you and your partner in for an appointment – not to change treatment or give false hope but to help you manage it, whatever the issue. This takes time. You understand,but the waiting room may not. Nonetheless, I will do my best for you, as always.

Dr Viven Brown is a family physician and past-president of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada.