Making the most of your medical visits

It’s easy to become distracted, nervous, and unable to concentrate or think as clearly as usual during a medical appointment – especially one for a pain problem. Health care providers typically have busy schedules and may often be pressed for time. If you feel pressure during the appointment it may be difficult to stay focused to be sure you bring up each of your concerns.

Making the most of your visit

If you want to make the best use of your time and make your visit a more worthwhile experience, you need to prepare in advance. Here are suggestions for making the best use of your time:

Transfer your medical records: If you are a “new” patient to the health care provider, and have received care for your chronic pain from someone else in the past, be sure that your medical records and test results have been transferred to your new provider before the appointment. Before the day of your visit, you should check that they have arrived.

Collect important information to bring with you: Be prepared to summarize your recent medical history, and have a list of the names, dosage and frequency of all of your medications you are taking. This includes non-prescription medications, vitamins, and any natural remedies you take.

Schedule enough time: If you are seeing a new provider, or if you have several problems, tell the office when you make your appointment so that they will plan enough time to for the visit.

Make a list of questions to be answered: Write down your questions and ask the most important ones right away. If your health care provider does not have enough time, ask if someone else on staff can answer them.

Bring someone else with you: Sometimes things move so quickly that you may tend to “blank out” or forget things. Have someone come with you if possible. A second set of eyes and ears is always a good thing. In some situations, one person can ask the questions and the other can take notes, and later you can compare what you heard.

Repeat back what you heard: At the end of the appointment, repeat what you were told so you will know that you heard and understood it correctly.

Make a follow-up appointment: If you don’t get all the information you need, ask for a follow-up meeting to have your concerns addressed.

Keep records: Use a notebook to keep track of your appointments, medications, and treatments.

Request copies of important documents: Ask the doctor to send a copy of laboratory tests and other reports to your home.

Medical decisions

When you are faced with the need to make important medical decisions, ask how much time you have to think about it, and whether or not delaying the decision may affect your health. Sometimes you may need to give yourself time to gather essential information and make sense of it. You may want to seek a second opinion. Dealing with chronic pain can also raise many strong emotions, so you may benefit from taking the time to let the facts “sink in.” Try not to let yourself feel rushed or pressured. Your healthcare providers want you to be fully informed and comfortable with your decisions.

Special issues related to pain

If you have trouble with pain control you will need to be more prepared. In addition to other information, bring a copy of your completed pain diary with you if you use one. You can go over it with your provider and leave a copy of it to become part of your medical record.

Using a pain diary will enable you to have this kind of information documented:

  • Where you feel pain

  • How you would describe the pain

  • How you rate your pain on a scale where 0 is the least pain and 10 is the most pain

  • How long the pain lasts

  • Whether the pain wakes you up

  • Do you feel pain upon awakening, and what the pain is like at different times of the day

  • What makes the pain worse? What makes the pain better?

  • What activities cause pain?

  • Each pain medication you are taking, the dose, and the time it was taken

  • How long it takes to get pain relief after you take your pain medication, and if pain comes back before your next scheduled dose

  • What you did to help relieve your pain, such as heat, ice, exercise or rest

  • How your pain affects your daily activities

At the end of the visit

Before you leave the office, be sure that you understand what should happen next. You can ask:

  • When should I return?
  • When will my test results be ready?
  • Do I contact you for my test results, or will you contact me?
  • Will I get a copy of my results?

It’s not always possible to have time to prepare, but preparation can reduce your fears, increase your sense of control, and help you maintain a positive attitude. If you get into the habit of being well prepared for medical visits your health care providers will be able to give you better care.


Patient-Doctor Talk