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How to Get the Most from Your Doctor Visits:

  As many of you know, I am a medical administrator and work for a family practice physician’s office. My job is to field complaints and issues patients have regarding their care.  Whether it be treatment received by the staff or physician or problems with insurance. It’s my job to get to the bottom of the issue and resolve it. One of the most frequently asked questions patients ask is “How can I get the most out of my time with the doctor.”  I get this question a lot from caregivers, because many of them feel invisible when it comes to taking their loved one in to see the doctor. Many of them feel they don’t have a right to step in and ask questions on their loved one’s behalf.  Caregivers have every right to ask questions regarding their loved one’s health care.  Many times they are the only voice their loved one has.

Getting your loved one to the doctor’s office can be difficult. People with dementia don’t like changes in environment and waiting in a strange place for an extended period of time can be stressful. Whether the appointment is for you or your family member, there are steps you can take to lessen the stress associated with doctor’s appointments while also insuring that you’re provided with treatment and information you need for you or your loved one at the appointment.

Below are 8 tips to help you prepare and get the most out of your doctor’s appointment:

  1. Come prepared: Write down your questions and concerns. Has anything changed with your or your loved one’s health? Tired, aches and pains? Shortness of breath? A skin rash or mole that has changed or bleeds? Difficulty with bowel or bladder. Unable to sleep at night? No appetite? Unintended weight loss or weight gain? Write your questions down before your appointment, so you don’t feel rushed. At your appointment, give the list of questions to your doctor at the beginning of your visit. That way they will be addressed right off the bat. This information will also give the doc an idea what is going on with you or your loved one and will direct the visit towards those issues.
  2. Bring your medication bottles: All of them: vitamin supplements, over the counter medications, even the ones from other doctors who are treating you. This is very important. Your doctors need to know what medications you are currently taking in order to avoid any drug interactions. Common vitamins and dietary supplements can interfere with other medications you may be taking. One example is Tums, a common over- the- counter remedy for indigestion can reduce the effect of Cipro (an antibiotic used to treat urinary tract and lung infections) by 40% by limiting the antibiotic’s absorption, which could result in inadequate treatment or may cause other complications.[1]
  3. Be on time:  This is the most contentious aspect of patient care. No one likes to sit in a crowded waiting room for a long period of time. Contrary to common opinion, doctors are aware of this and are also aware of how valuable your time is. Granted, things do come up like emergencies in the office or at the hospital. Physicians are dealing with people, and sometimes they need more than the allotted appointment time for their treatment.  As important as it is for doctors to respect your time, it is also important for you to respect theirs. If you are not there at your appointment time, that will delay your appointment as well as back up the schedule for someone else. Sticking to the schedule may be difficult sometimes but for the most part, doctors make an effort to keep on time with their schedule. If your loved one has difficulty waiting, you can call the office 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment and ask if the doctor is on time. That way arrangements can be made for you to come in later or reschedule if need be.
  4. Leave the family/neighbors/friends at home: If you are an adult and do not suffer from dementia, it is best for you to be the only one in the exam room in order to avoid interruptions from another person. This is your appointment. It’s your time with the doctor.  If you do require someone to be with you or if you want someone there as a second set of ears to hear what the doctor is saying regarding your treatment, ask them to please be courteous of your time and the doctor’s time by not asking the doctor to treat their medical issues. If the doctor needs to address someone else’s medical problem during your visit, it will take time away from your care and will infringe on the next patient’s visit. This is one of the most difficult and sensitive situations for physicians to deal with.  Most people think it should be no problem for the doctor to treat them during your visit. After all, he’s their doctor too so why can’t he look at the rash on your back or go over your lab work from three weeks ago.  It’s not that doctors don’t want to help- they do. But people need to realize that treating another patient on top of the one that is already scheduled takes additional time and resources. It takes time away from the patient that scheduled the visit and will take time away from the patient waiting in the waiting room. There is so much more to treating a patient than people are aware of. There are important protocols that must be followed in order to provide quality care.  If your family member or person accompanying you to your doctor visit is sick or has a concern, it is best for them to schedule a separate appointment. That way they will receive the doctor’s undivided attention to their medical issue without taking time away from your appointment.
  5. Bring your driver’s license or other government issued form of identification and your current insurance information: In order to make sure you receive the benefits you are entitled to, the billing staff needs a copy of your current insurance card. With the Affordable Care Act in full swing, many insurance networks are narrower, which means the doctor you saw last year may not be on the plan this year. Knowing your insurance coverage helps the medical staff direct your care to the providers who are on your plan. If your insurance has changed, you need to make sure the office staff knows and that the physician you are seeing is a provider for your current insurance. It is important that you are aware of this because you may ultimately be responsible for any charges incurred at the visit.  You can call the insurance company or call the doctor office to verify this information.   Verifying that your doctor is on your current plan will help you will get the most out of your benefits.
  1. During Your Visit: If this is your first visit to the doctor make sure you not only have a current list of your medications (Preferably the actual medication bottles), you should have a list of any allergies-medication as well as non-medication allergies. This information is extremely important in regards to your health care. For example, patients who are allergic to eggs should not receive the flu vaccine because one of the base ingredients is eggs, so it’s important for your doc to know what, if anything you are allergic to. Also, if this is the first time you are seeing this doctor, you will need to know your medical history and your immediate family’s history as well, including any surgeries or serious illnesses. If this is a follow- visit, be sure to let your doctor know how previous treatment worked or not. This will help your doctor decide what treatment will need changed or if staying the course is appropriate.
  1. Communication: If at any time during your visit, you don’t understand the treatment your doctor is prescribing, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t understand”, or “could you explain that in a little more detail.” It is imperative that you understand what your doctor is prescribing and how it is going to help. It is also important to understand what if any side effects may occur. This is especially important when it comes to medication dosage changes or new medications being prescribed. Also, be sure to tell your doctor if you need refills on any of your medication. This is the best time to address your need for refills since your doc will have you chart right there and will be able to go over your medications with you while you are still in the room. Before you leave the office, you should be presented with a print out of your care plan or a summary of the visit. In that care plan will be all the details of your visit including a list of your medications and any changes made. This is a valuable tool since you can take it home and refer to it as needed.
  1. After Your Visit: If you feel like the treatment isn’t helping or you are feeling some ill effects from the treatment do not hesitate to call your physician’s office and report any adverse reactions to medication or other treatment. Below is a guideline of symptoms and when to call:
  1. Shortness of breath, itchy rash, lightheadedness, dizziness, sedation, fast heart rate ( tachycardia), heart palpations or a drop in blood pressure upon standing (orthostatic hypotension)  call your doctor immediately.  If it is after hours, go to the emergency room or urgent care as this may be a serious or life threatening complication.
  2. GI Upset, headache, fatigue. These are some of the most common side effects of medication, but they can also be related to a new or worsening illness.  If any of these are an issue for more than a few days, call the doctor’s office and let them know what’s going on.
  3. Fever: If you have been treated in the office for upper respiratory infection, urinary tract infection or are experiencing abdominal pain and develop a fever above 100.8 please call your doctor.  You should not experience fever once on antibiotics and a spike in temperature may be a sign that something else is going on.  As a caregiver, it is important to take care of yourself as well as your loved ones. It is important for you to have periodic check-ups with your physician and to address any medical issues that may come up. Caregiver’s health is the first thing to go by the wayside while taking care of someone who is suffering with a chronic illness like Alzheimer’s disease. Caregivers have a tendency to think that their well- being doesn’t matter because their loved one is more seriously ill.  If you don’t take care of yourself, then who will take care of them if you can’t?  Developing a good relationship with your family doctor is essential to receive the best care possible. Don’t be intimidated by the white coat.  Medical personnel want to help.  But they can’t do it alone.  In order to receive the health care you deserve, you have to be an active participant. If you don’t speak up for yourself, who will?

(What are some of your concerns when going to the doctor?  Comment here or email me at http://www.mariaciletti@mariaciletti.com)

[1] Frost RW, Lettieri JT, Noe A, et al. Effect of aluminum hydroxide and calcium carbonate antacids on ciprofloxacin bioavailability. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1989a;45:165.  Cited 12/23/2014

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