Getting the most from your doctor’s visit

Have you ever left your doctor’s office having forgotten to ask an important question . . . or arrived home not totally clear about everything you had discussed during your visit?

This happens all too frequently and it doesn’t mean that you have dementia or you weren’t paying attention. Yet what we missed may be bad for your health.

The information you didn’t share with your doctor may have been as important as anything else you had discussed at your visit. If you are not clear on your plan of management, you’re unlikely to get the best results.

Old-time doctors used to call patients “noncompliant” when they failed to start an exercise program, eat a healthier diet or take their medications as prescribed. Enlightened doctors today recognize that when a patient doesn’t follow through with the plan, it means one of three things: (1) we weren’t prepared for obstacles to success, (2) we didn’t effectively communicate the management plan, or (3) the plan was the doctor’s and not the patient’s.

Effective communication in the form of dialogue is crucial to every relationship. In your personal relationships at home, it’s the key to happiness. In the professional relationship with your doctor, it’s crucial for health.

That communication begins with your call to book an appointment. The medical office assistant will ask for the reason of your visit. If there is more than one, give them all when you’re booking.

The medical office assistant is part of your health care team and can be trusted with your confidentiality. She or he helps the office run more smoothly so that all patients can be well served.

Being human, we may pick up an infection or discover new problems before we see the doctor. If you do, advise the medical office assistant when you arrive. This will ensure that the doctor is best prepared for your visit.

Some problems require specific instruments, gowns or other preparations. Work-related or MVA-related injuries may require important detailed information and specific forms.

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or a stressful situation, additional time may be required for counselling.

The first few minutes of your visit is the best time to clarify everything you need to address. Your doctor may have some additional items to discuss with you, including the results of recent investigations or screening tests that are due. It’s important to agree on your shared agenda at the beginning of your visit just as you would at the beginning of a meeting at work.

Each problem you present requires the doctor to take a thorough history including the asking of crucial questions and to perform a physical examination to rule in or out important conditions. When the working diagnosis is clear, the doctor may propose a management plan and alternative choices for treatment. You need the opportunity to ask questions and to get all the information you need to make informed choices.

Obviously, if your doctor has to work through this process sequentially as you pull a series of problems from your pocket one at a time, a 10 or 15 minute appointment can turn into an hour, sabotaging the medical office assistant’s mission of keeping the office running smoothly to serve all patients well.

So the first thing you can do to get the most of your doctor’s visit is to come prepared. Write your list of problems and bring it with any other information that may assist your doctor. Share it with the medical office assistant – your ally in the office – and your family physician.

In upcoming columns, I’ll address the management plan and the crucial information you need to know about any medication, investigation or treatment in order to make an informed choice and remain in the driver’s seat in your own health care.

On Monday, February 17th, I will be speaking at the Metrotown branch of the Burnaby Public Library on “The Patient-Doctor Relationship: making the most of each visit with your family doctor.” For more information, please phone the Metrotown branch at (604) 436-5400 or register online at


About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
This entry was posted in Burnaby Division of Family Practice, Empowering Healthcare, patient-doctor relationship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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