FORGOT TO ASK? A template so you’ll never again leave your doctor without all questions asked

Even I have found myself in this situation.  You anticipate your doctor’s appointment for weeks, have a mental list of what to ask and mention, and then you arrive and find that one particular issue (or two) takes over the visit.  You get sidetracked and arrive home, only to realize that you forgot to raise that particular issue.  As a physician, I have had patients contact my office a day or two later, to mention something they forgot to ask at the appointment.  There is always a bit of an inconvenience for the patient.  Your doctor misses out on an opportunity to address things together.  For example, your doctor might ask you to take a pill and watch your heartburn to get better but if he/she knows you had tarry stools 3 weeks ago, he/she will likely send you immediately to have an upper endoscopy.  Of course, some situations may not be as serious.

It is my opinion that everyone should have a written agenda for each doctor appointment.  This is particularly important for people with complex medical issues, but I feel that everyone could benefit from such.

Chances are that when you decided to meet a realtor to discuss buying a home, you had some idea of what you wanted, a list on paper (ideally) or mentally (easier to forget).  When meeting that attorney for a legal issue, you also prepared in advance.  In the same way, it is imperative to prepare for a doctor appointment and here is a list one might use:

Date of appointment:  This helps one remember the particular day for reference in the future.

How I have been:  List symptoms you have had leading up to this visit.  Mention things that happened, even if they seemed inconsequential to you.  Have some idea of when and for how long.  Your doctor can put these together and decide which matter, which don’t, which can be watched, and which need intervention.

My list of medications and herbs:  Provide an update at each visit.  Did you start a new medication and then stop?  Your doctor needs to know those as well.  Be sure to mention the reason for stopping them also.

Family and social history:  Did a young family member (<45) suddenly get diagnosed with breast cancer in the interim?   Did you learn that a cousin was admitted to hospital with some medical issue?  Social history has to do with substances like alcohol, tobacco, sexual habits, work, etc.  A worsening alcohol habit fall here, for example.  It can explain why liver enzymes are suddenly high on blood tests.

Recommendations and plan for today:  Leave some space to write down what you need to do.  It could be medications to take, new lifestyle changes to try, other doctors to see, tests to have done, etc.  Your doctor will likely give you an after visit summary which you can also file away with your paperwork.  If you have tests and referrals scheduled, plug them into your calendar so as not to forget.

The more your doctor knows, the more they can help you.  Yes, if you have a particularly lengthy agenda, your doctor might suggest tackling some that day, and returning for another visit.  Regardless, you can be sure that you will have a more productive visit that way.


Question:  What are a few other ways you have made the most of your doctor appointment?  Feel free to leave a comment below.  

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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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