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Insider secrets: 10 must-know tips for mastering medical appointments

Since December 2022, I have attended over 60 medical appointments, ranging from 15 minutes to as long as 6 hours. Some appointments were as short as 15 minutes, while others required a minimum of 3 hours. Through these numerous health care visits, which collectively amount to more than 60 hours, I have gained valuable insights. Here are my top 10 tips based on my experiences:

Check the location and plan ahead. Before your appointment, make sure you know where you are going. Some medical offices can be difficult to find, so it’s wise to ask about parking arrangements, specific floor and room numbers, or any other relevant details.

Schedule multiple appointments in advance. If possible, try to schedule multiple appointments ahead of time. This is especially beneficial for treatments that require a series of visits, such as infusions over 12 weeks. Busy doctors and clinics tend to have limited availability, so booking in advance can secure more convenient time slots for you.

Advocate for yourself. Don’t hesitate to ask health care professionals how you can streamline the process or make it more efficient. For example, I recently needed weekly infusions, but the treatment was only possible if my white blood cell count, specifically the neutrophil subtype, was within certain limits. By arranging to have the required blood tests a couple of days before each infusion, I saved time and avoided unnecessary waiting on the day of the treatment.

Be prepared to wait. Medical appointments can sometimes involve waiting periods. Make sure to bring something with you to pass the time, such as a book, emails to catch up on, or materials for upcoming meetings. Having a distraction can help make the waiting more bearable.

Understand medication side effects. Familiarize yourself with the potential side effects of any medications you are prescribed. Ensure you are taking only what is necessary and discuss with your doctor if you experience any issues or discomfort. For instance, I found it challenging to sleep while taking oral steroids, which can cause insomnia. After discussing this with my doctor, we decided to taper off the steroids. However, I experienced a rapid change in sleep patterns, feeling excessively drowsy during the day. It’s important to communicate openly with your health care provider about any concerns you may have.

Minimize medication side effects. Ask your health care provider for strategies to minimize any unwanted side effects of necessary medications. While some side effects are unavoidable, there may be ways to mitigate their impact. Working collaboratively with your doctor can help find the best approach for you.

Prepare a list of questions. Before your appointment, make a written list of any questions or concerns you want to address. Even if it’s just one crucial question, having it written down ensures you won’t forget to discuss it. If you’re prone to misplacing physical lists, consider storing it on your phone for easy access. While some doctors may not appreciate lists, many will value your proactive approach to self-advocacy. Handing your list over to your doctor allows for a comprehensive discussion within the limited time available.

Maintain a positive mindset. Focus on keeping your spirits up during your medical journey. Everyone’s approach to this will be different, so find what works best for you. It could involve reaching out to friends or loved ones, engaging in exercise to the extent possible (even if it requires adjusting your expectations), treating yourself to something enjoyable like chocolate, or simply seeking out moments of beauty and inspiration in the world around you.

Cultivate emotional intelligence. Develop and nurture emotional intelligence to manage not only your own emotions but also the emotions of those around you, including health care professionals. This can be challenging, but simplifying the process can help. Start by recognizing basic emotions such as anger, sadness, and happiness, and gradually expand your emotional awareness and regulation.

Share your emotions with your doctor. Expressing your emotions can foster a deeper connection with your doctor. As a physician myself, I often find myself focused on solving problems and completing tasks during patient encounters. However, as a patient, I value a doctor who truly sees me and understands my concerns. Don’t hesitate to share your emotions and allow your doctor to genuinely care about your well-being.

I hope these tips prove helpful to you based on my own experiences. Remember that every medical journey is unique, and it’s essential to tailor these suggestions to your specific circumstances.

Christine J. Ko is a dermatopathologist.

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