Tips For Better Patient/Doctor Communication
If you’re reading this because you have multiple sclerosis or another chronic illness, chances are you see doctors more than the average person. I’ve been a part of this community that spends a ton of time in doctors' offices for more than two decades now. The countless hours spent in front of a doctor (and many more in a waiting room) have helped refine the way I approach a visit to my doctor. I’ve tried to come up with some ways to make the appointments as beneficial as possible. So, here are some tips I’ve accumulated to help make the most of your time in front of the person with the white coat!
Prepare properly for your neurology appointment
I see my MS specialist about every six months (though I’ve gone up to a year at times as well). A visit with your specialist doesn’t last that long, and it can be hard to cram important information into that short period of time. With a disease like MS, memory can be a big obstacle when it comes to properly communicating your life with MS to your doctor. It’s extremely easy to forget or overlook something that happened. That’s why I think a good doctor’s visit starts way before you ever set foot in the office.
Keep a journal for your appointments
It starts with a journal that you keep the entire year. I try to keep an ongoing list of issues and questions I have. I keep it on a notepad on my smartphone, but I know plenty of people that keep them in written notebooks, too. It can be extremely important to write down even the smallest of issues you have, along with when they occurred. I also tend to keep information like the temperature and other weather conditions too, as well as if I was stressed or any other detail I can think of - the more info, the better. If not needed by the doctor, it can at least help me look back and identify what triggers my symptoms so that I can better adapt next time or at least not panic when it occurs again.
You won't be overdoing it
It’s not overdoing it to keep these things written down. It can also show the doctor that you are serious as well as give him/her a true idea of what’s been going on, unclouded by your memory. Some of my best doctors have encouraged me to keep journals like this, so it’s time I pass that info on. Along with writing all this down, be sure to review it before your appointment and see if there is anything you need to mention. Make a list of any questions you have and write that down too.
Speak up/advocate for yourself
There are a tremendous number of people who go into their doctor’s appointment and become very passive. They sit there and seem to just let the appointment happen, happy to get it over with. This is your health though, and you need to make the most of this visit. Try to speak up, explain your concerns, and most importantly, ask questions. They are there to serve you, not vice versa.
There are no stupid questions
It’s YOUR time to make the most of, so don’t be afraid to speak up, say what’s on your mind, and ask whatever you want. The saying “no question is a stupid question” is very true. Sometimes, the questions you ask may even help the doctor to better understand your condition, so do your best to speak up. If you don’t understand something they say, then ask them to explain it again; remember, they’re there for you. The more passive you are, the more they are likely to fall into jargon you may not understand. Your appointment with your doctor should be a conversation, not a presentation.
An issue I have had since day one is that I tend to minimize my issues, particularly things like pain. This is especially a concern for men (I still have the natural instinct to sit up straight, be the alpha male, and act like nothing is really bothering me), but it affects everyone. It’s extremely important to be honest with your doctor. They aren’t there to judge you, they’re there to help you. Put your pride aside.
This is a tough one for some people, myself included. I currently don’t live near any family, so I bring a friend or my roommate with me. Doctor’s visits can seem intense, it’s easy to forget things in the heat of the moment. Bringing in someone else to help, even just to listen, can be extremely helpful. It also can aid you in feeling more comfortable and that you have someone on your side. This can be pretty helpful for the previous tips of speaking up and being honest. They may also catch something that you miss, I’ve had that happen a number of times, and I encourage whoever I bring to feel free to speak up. There is no shame in bringing someone in with you, it’s just smart. This might even be the most important tip I have.
Write down whatever you think is important when you are in with the doctor, they won’t mind. It’ll help you remember it, too, and may help you come up with more questions in the moment. If you bring someone with you, it’s ok to ask them to take notes, too. Review your notes when you get home, if you have any questions, it’s best to send your doctor a message or put in a call with them to get clarification sooner than later.
How well do people around you understand MS?