Let’s face a fact. You get to see your doctor for 30 minutes or so, every couple of weeks or months. Maybe you see him/her once a year. That is not a lot of time. It may not matter if you don’t have much going on health wise. What if you have several health issues though, are taking several medications, or trying to read up on the Internet? What if you have complications that come up occasionally? Do you wonder how to stay connected with your doctor without feeling like a bother? Do you wonder when it is appropriate to call and when to wait?

Here are 4 things to keep in mind:

It really is ok to call if you need to. Most of the time, you might need to call in between appointments if you have a serious question. For example, you may be out of your medications or having a side effect from a new medication. Perhaps you have a new symptom. Maybe you remembered that you need to have a foot exam once a year and called to check. Maybe you feel you should be getting a mammogram before your next appointment and decided to call and ask. In other words, a question or concern that you need to clarify before your next appointment is good enough reason to call. The best health care involves an attentive doctor and an engaged patient.

It does help if you try to prioritize. If you realize on a Friday afternoon that your medication runs out in a week, it is okay to wait and call on Monday unless if it takes a long time to get a new supply. If you notice that your toenail is turning a bit brown and there is no pain or bleeding or fever, you could wait for your scheduled appointment the following week. The same applies to new heartburn. On the other hand, sudden onset headache in a 60 year old who has never had headaches, is a good reason to call immediately, even at 8pm. Of course, a non-medically trained person might be uncertain of a few things. That is where the expertise of your doctor and his/her staff come in handy. One should try to prioritize but whenever uncertain, it is best to err on the side of caution. Your doctor’s office staff (usually nurses) can tell you when to come in immediately, and when to wait a few days or even weeks.

Staying in touch is good for your health. Once in a while, health problems are dramatic but mostly, they start slowly and then get worse over time. This means that calling your doctor early allows he/she to intervene before things get out of hand. If you are on chemotherapy for example, it is more useful to call immediately if nausea is not responding to medications. Your oncologist may schedule intravenous fluids and intravenous medications that can help pretty quickly. After 2 – 3 days of nausea and vomiting all day, one might have dehydration and malfunctioning kidneys and may need hospital admission. In fact, a recent study confirmed that cancer patients who self-report symptoms do better and live longer.

Other updates are equally important. What if you are traveling and need medical care? What if you end up in an emergency room or urgent care center on a weekend? Your doctor really does need to know. Your health complication likely has an implication for your future care. As soon as you are able to, it is important to call your doctor’s office and notify them of the event. It is helpful to have the name of the hospital and dates so that your doctor can request health records. It is also important to take note of any new medications that were prescribed, and to remember whatever was diagnosed if possible. Usually, an emergency room doctor provides a summary note that can help.

Question: What uncertainties have you had in trying to stay connected with your doctor? Feel free to leave a comment below.



Written by 

Author of "Self navigate for health" available as eBook on Amazon and paperback on Lulu. Hematology-oncology physician writing about medical self-advocacy or "self-navigation", cancer, blood disorders, and books

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