Wednesday 17 January 2018

How to get the most out of your doctor's appointment

Dr Nina Byrnes
Dr Nina Byrnes

Dr Nina Byrnes

I don't go to see the doctor very often as I find it expensive. When I do I usually try to get a few problems covered. Lately I have found that my doctor seems rushed and I don't feel I'm getting value for money from my appointment. Have you any advice?

A visit to the doctor can be an intimidating and stressful experience, especially if it is your first time attending the doctor in question or if you are someone who tries to avoid the doctor at all costs.

For many others, the cost of a doctor visit can be a significant financial outlay so they try to get as much value out of each visit as possible. As doctor appointments are often short, busy consultations can result in both the patient and doctor feeling rushed, frustrated and unsatisfied with the experience.

There are, however, a number of things you can do to enhance the quality of your visit.

Get as much information as you can about the surgery you will visit. Find out how long it will take to get there, and what parking facilities are like. Consider having your files from a previous doctor arrive before you or bring them with you.

This will make it much easier for the doctor to review your medical history and have a better idea of your overall health. Arriving 15 minutes early for your first appointment is also a good idea as it is likely you will have to fill in some registration forms. For other appointments, arrive on time.

Bring any relevant documents with you such as your PPS number, insurance details or prescriptions. Bring your actual medication along. If you have a medical card make sure it is in date and bring it with you on every visit. Some practices offer discounts for students, so if this applies make sure you bring a valid student ID.

Find out about the appointments' system in the practice you are going to visit. Is there a walk-in clinic or is it by appointment only? A walk-in clinic may seem ideal, but remember it is likely you will have a prolonged wait for this kind of consult.

If the surgery runs an appointment system, find out how long the standard consultation is - they vary from seven to 15-minute slots with 10 minutes being the average. When you make an appointment, allow the receptionist to help.

Staff are subject to confidentiality agreements and will deal with your enquiries in a professional way. Giving them an idea what the visit is for will help them advise you on the best appointment type.

Think about who it is you need to see. A nurse may be more appropriate if your appointment is for a blood test, antenatal care, smear or immunisation.

This has the advantage of potentially costing you less and may also mean you get in and out of the surgery quicker. Avoid booking appointments for tests on a Friday afternoon, as many samples cannot survive in a fridge over the weekend and you may have to reschedule.

Consider the clothes you wear. Wearing something that is easy to remove or roll up will make things run more smoothly for blood tests etc.

If you are due to have a blood test, consider wearing layers that keep you warm. When you are warm your veins come to the surface making it easier to draw blood. Don't pass urine just before you attend. If you think they might need a sample bring one with you.

If you have several complaints, write a list and let your doctor know that you have this at the start of the consultation. The doctor can then allocate enough time to each problem and also prioritise the most important complaint and deal with it first.

Many patients start with what they feel are the unimportant issues and then start to discuss the major issue as the doctor thinks the consultation is wrapping up. It may not be possible to deal with all your issues in one appointment.

If your doctor suggests booking further appointments to deal with some issues it's because they want to give them the appropriate consideration and time. Make sure you have enough time. Although as doctors we try to keep to time, consults can take longer and leave us running behind. Try and be as clear as you can.

Know when and how your symptoms occur; what makes them better or worse. If they are associated with stress, fatigue, food or exercise and whether they are localised to one area of the body are all important details and will help in the diagnosis.

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