July 09, 2013

Carrie Bebermeyer

Six Tips for “Type-A” Personalities at the Doctor’s Office

(And Strategies the Rest of Us Can Borrow)

Saint Louis University instructors of health informatics and information management Julie Howe and Teresa Neal  

You wake up and wrestle your day like it’s an Olympic event, accomplishing more in the first nine minutes than the rest of the world will in the first hour, as they groggily hit the snooze button. With your precise approach to life, you tackle every project with equal parts preparation, organization and gusto. You aim for perfection.

So naturally, you’ll need to prepare if you want to execute a perfect doctor’s office visit.

Saint Louis University instructors of health informatics and information management Julie Howe and Teresa Neal offer advice we all can use as we prepare to make the most of our visits to a physician.

“One of the best ways to approach your doctor’s appointment is to be organized and goal driven,” says Howe. “Our time is limited when we are consulting with our physicians.

“You’re much more likely to have a positive experience and address your health concerns if you prepare ahead of time.”

Consider these tips to make the most of your doctor’s visit:

Schedule and Prepare. The first step to preparing for your doctor’s visit happens when you pick up the phone to make an appointment.

“When you call the office, be clear,” Neal said. “Tell the scheduler exactly why you are making an appointment so that he or she can schedule the right amount of time.”

Be sure to have your health records from other physician offices sent over in advance of your appointment.

Also ask if there’s any information that can be emailed to you or a website connected with the practice that you can review prior to your appointment. Read about your health issues in advance in a relaxed environment at home. This can help you to better understand your doctor’s advice during your appointment.

Diligently complete your health history. The forms you fill out aren’t busy work, designed to waste your time. To the contrary, your health history is one of your doctor’s very best diagnostic tools.

“Take your health records seriously,” says Neal. “The information you fill out is as much a part of your doctor’s diagnosis as x-rays and blood tests are.”

If you don’t know the answer to questions like “Has anyone in your family died at a young age of a cardiac event,” consider picking up the phone to call a relative and find out. These questions provide invaluable information about your genetic risk of many illnesses.

Take responsibility for your health records. Request and keep updated copies of your health records and know what is being documented on your behalf.

Remember, you own your personal health record. You always have a right to it, and you also have a responsibility to make sure it is accurate and up-to-date.
--Julie Howe

“The average patient has no idea what’s in their health records,” said Howe. “We place all of our faith in our doctor, and we don’t know our own history.

“Remember, you own your personal health record. You always have a right to it, and you also have a responsibility to make sure it is accurate and up-to-date.”

Reviewing your health record is a good way to make sure you and your doctor are on the same page. It’s also a way to catch errors or to ask questions about a health concern that is represented differently than you anticipated.

“Patients forget that they have a right to look at their health information,” said Neal. “Sometimes, patients are worried they will offend their doctor. This can be a generational concern. Sometimes younger patients are not as intimidated and are more tech savvy.

“In any case, we have a right and a responsibility to look at our records. Be an advocate for yourself.”

Write down your medications and supplements. It’s very hard to remember the names, spellings and dosage amounts of medications and supplements once you step away from your medicine cabinet.

Are you doubling up the amount of vitamin A you’re ingesting by taking both a daily vitamin and supplement from the gym? Could medications prescribed by different specialists interact with each other? Your doctor can only spot concerns like this if you have an accurate and up-to-date list.

Set an agenda. Set an agenda, listing your concerns from most important to least pressing in order to make the most of your time and your doctor’s time.

Know that you may not be able to address all of the issues, but that, by prioritizing, you’ll get to the most urgent concerns. You may need to set a follow-up appointment to address additional topics. The more organized you are, the more you can get through in your appointment time.

Be an advocate for yourself.
--Teresa Neal

Have a Goal. Tell your doctor what your goal is. Do you need to refill a prescription? Do you want relief from a symptom? Do you want advice about losing weight? Communicate the reason for your visit, and then listen to see what additional topics your doctor addresses.

*Note for laid-back personalities: You are to be applauded for your low stress approach to life. Not sweating the small stuff can be a good strategy for keeping stress low. When it comes to your doctor’s appointment, however, it’s worth the extra effort to emulate the Type A approach and take charge of your health. Then, you can return to your zen-like serenity.

In the end? You will have your doctor’s thanks and your own good health.

Saint Louis University’s department of health informatics and information management prepares students to become valuable members of health care teams with a particular expertise in collecting, analyzing and disseminating health information. Graduates work in a wide variety of medical, science and business settings and can offer special guidance on issues that require a health information focus, such as personal and electronic health records, rural medicine, medical identity theft, death investigations, telemedicine and data mining, among many others.

Long a leader in educating health professionals, Saint Louis University offered its first degree in an allied health profession in 1929. Today the Doisy College of Health Sciences offers degrees in physical therapy, clinical laboratory science, nutrition and dietetics, health informatics and information management, medical imaging and radiation therapeutics, occupational science and occupational therapy, and physician assistant education. The college's unique curriculum prepares students to work with health professionals from all disciplines to ensure the best possible patient care.

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