Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is a doctor at Queen West Health Centre gave us a glimpse of a 'day in the life' of a family doctor, then came by the show to talk about making the most of your visit to the family doctor!
To use your time with your doctor effectively, here are Dr Sheila's tips:
1. How should you plan ahead?
Take some time before your visit to think about your main concerns. Make a list of things you would like to discuss, but prioritize your top two or three. Although you may have a list of six or seven items, most doctors will only be able to cover two or three effectively and responsibly during a single visit. If you have more than two or three issues, it may be helpful to call ahead and book a longer appointment or two separate appointments. By seeing your family doctor regularly and having at least one yearly check-up for preventative care you will be able to keep your list of concerns to a minimum.
2. How should you prepare to talk about your concerns?
Now that you know what you want to discuss, think about each of your concerns in detail. Doctors depend on you sharing as much information as possible so they can formulate a diagnosis and a treatment plan based on your symptoms. So think about these questions for each of your concerns before your visit:
a. Location: Where does it hurt? Can you point to it? Does the pain stay in one spot or travel?
b. Time frame: How long have you had this symptom (minutes/days/hours/weeks)? Is it constant or intermittent?
c. Intensity: How strong is this pain or symptom? How is it affecting your life?
d. Description: What does it feel like? What is the quality of the pain (i.e. sharp/dull)? Does anything trigger this symptom or make it better/worse?
Finally, share with your doctor what it is about a symptom that worries you most. If you are worried that the symptom could lead to something very serious, let your doctor know and they can help alleviate your worries or do the appropriate tests necessary to further investigate your concern.
3. How much information should you be prepared to share with your doctor to bring them up to date on your history?
It's important that your doctor has a complete picture of your health to give you appropriate care. This includes any other medical treatment, your family history, and your current lifestyle. Inform your doctor about any changes to your health status, for example recent visits to specialists or to the emergency room and bring and records or test results with you on your visit. Also bring your medications (or a list of current medications), to each visit including over the counter and herbal medications. Your visit is also a confidential opportunity for you to share about any sensitive issues such as mood changes, stress, relationship concerns, alcohol, drug use, and smoking. All these important facts help keep your records up to date, and helps your doctor ensure that when formulating a plan of action, all the bases are covered.
4. What about during the checkup - is it okay to ask lots of questions? How can we come away with the answers and information we need for the next step?
Ask for clarification and don't be afraid to say "I don't understand" to your doctor. Diagnoses, medicines and tests can all be complicated and confusing. Asking for clarification keeps both you and your doctor on the same page. Bring a friend or family member to the appointment so that you have support in telling your history or recalling the plan, especially if you have a complicated medical history or find visits overwhelming. Keeping notes during your visits can also help you to keep things clear.
5. Do you suggest working out a plan of action with the doctor?
The end of the visit can be a confusing time, so when writing down your diagnoses and next steps, be sure to make special note of:
- Changes to existing medications or new prescriptions and how to take the medication and its possible side effects
-Tests to be done and special instructions (i.e. how long you have to fast for blood tests)
-Follow-up appointments: with your family doctor or with a specialist
-Who to talk to if you have any concerns (some offices have call coverage where you can reach a healthcare practitioner after hours.)
6. What can we do to make sure we get the best health care we can?
The key to receiving the best care is by being an advocate for your own health and helping your healthcare provider better understand your symptoms. You can achieve this by preparing, thinking about the purpose of your visit, keeping up to date, and asking questions. By taking these active steps in your healthcare, you can partner with your doctor to have an effective and fulfilling visit, and a healthier you!