Want to get the most out of your visit with your healthcare provider? Have you ever left your visit wondering what just happened? You are far from alone. It’s not unusual for patients to have the sense that only some of their concerns were addressed in a single healthcare visit. A simple solution? Plan and keep track.
There are things that you can do to set yourself up for success both during and after your visit. Start with the item that is the most within your control: your mindset. If you have realistic expectations for your visit, you are less likely to be disappointed. If you can understand that when folks are running late it is most often due to factors beyond their control (a previous patient was much sicker than anticipated, for example), you are doing yourself a favor and have managed your mindset. If you understand that problems often take time to solve, you are managing your mindset.
Prepare for your visit by setting an agenda. Healthcare encounters are a team effort between you and the provider; you come in with concerns about your health, and the provider brings their expertise to address those concerns. Together, you formulate a strategy. Write down a list of what is on your radar with regard to your health, and what you think are the top two or three issues. I would also recommend including some notes; if you have pain in your knee, jot down some notes about when you first started noticing it, what seems to bother it, what seems to make it better.
Plan to show the agenda to your provider at the beginning of the visit. The provider might pick a different item as the most important one for that visit; do what you can to be flexible and trust their judgment. At the same time, feel free to ask why they chose that as a higher priority. The answer may surprise (and enlighten) you.
Pro tip: it takes about 10 minutes to adequately address a health concern (or develop a plan if it’s something that will take more than one visit). If you find that your agenda has five items on it, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration if you expect all items to be addressed in the same visit. By all means, make the list – and then identify which are your top three items to be addressed this time.
Understand there is a strong chance that you will need to schedule an additional visit in order to give the appropriate amount of attention to the items on your agenda. Working with your provider is a relationship, and ideally one that is ongoing. The two of you are partnering to address a common goal, which itself is a long(ish) term proposition. Depending on the particulars, you may be able to continue the conversation via telehealth; this can be particularly helpful if transportation is an issue, or the weather is bad, or if it’s tough to set aside a big block of time for an appointment.
During your visit, take notes (you can use the list!). Write down a short note about what was discussed for each agenda item, which you can refer to later. When you get home or have a chance to reflect back on the visit, you can update your agenda, add notes or things that you need to do (maybe you need to start walking a few times a week, or make some changes to your diet). You can review this information as needed, and it can feed forward into your agenda for your next visit.
The most important things to remember are that you are an active partner in your health – and it’s your job to embody that. Planning for your visits with your provider can help you to get more out of your visits and improve the relationship with your provider – and, ideally, your health.