Monday, September 30, 2013

Preparing for your appointment with a specialist

Visiting Smiths Falls hospital the other day, and talking to the spouse of a man in to see the specialist, it occurred to me that many skip common sense and guidelines when visiting a physician, especially a specialist. Your family or primary doctor will refer you to a specialist, you wait a week or two, and finally get in to see him or her.

In the meantime, you've forgotten all of the things that happened. This is why I counsel all of my clients to visit a doctor with either your spouse, a family member or a family friend. In case you do not have anyone to accompany you, you can talk to Community Home Support in your area and ask for a volunteer to go with you. I have done this many times. I've been with clients to see a family doctor, the Pain Clinic in Ottawa, the Heart Institute, a Communicable Disease specialist, as well as other individual specialists.

What I've found is the busy specialists often fail to speak slowly and clearly,
rushing through to get to the next client. They have no idea if their patient understands what they are saying, either due to dementia (a hidden symptom for many people) or a physical barrier, such as a hearing impairment.

The best specialists dictate their recommendations and reports into a dictaphone and send you home with a copy. That said, I prepare my clients before we go to the physician, arriving early at their home and helping them make a list of questions. I take a notebook to write down what I hear.

Your doctor will ask: When did you first begin noticing symptoms?
How often do you have symptoms?
Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
Does anything seem to make your symptoms better or worse?

This list is appropriate for all patients. 
  1. Write down symptoms, use an agenda, notebook or planner, filling extra notes. 
  2. Save the list from the pharmacy, which lists all of your prior medications. Tape it into your agenda.
  3. Write down all over-the-counter medications. They may be important, including vitamins and other supplements, e.g., creams, herbs, lotions.
  4. Create questions for your doctor. They may include: 
  • What might be causing my signs and symptoms? 
  • Are tests needed to confirm the diagnosis? 
  • What treatment approach do you recommend? 
  • What are the side effects from this treatment?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary treatment approach that you're suggesting? 
  • What health routines do you recommend to improve my symptoms?

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