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Help Me Help You: What You Can Do to Make Your Doctor Visit Successful

Posted 10/11/2016 by UHBlog

There are things you can do to make your next doctor visit more successful. Ask us.

Help Me Help You: What You Can Do to Make Your Doctor Visit Successful

Have you ever left your doctor’s appointment feeling like some information is missing? It’s a common occurrence for many people.

“Physicians are trained to find the chief complaint and work from there,” says sports medicine specialist Robert Truax, DO. “Doctors assume that answering the complaint will also take care of the chief worry. That isn’t always the case.”

For example, if you go to your doctor complaining of back pain, you may be told, even after an X-ray, that “It's just tight muscles. Here are some muscle relaxants and a prescription for physical therapy.” Technically, this answer may be correct, Dr. Truax says.

“But, it doesn't answer the question I'm often asked, ‘Can I continue to exercise or am I going to harm myself?’” he says.

While most people with back pain can continue with their activities – or just make some minor modifications – that worry isn’t revealed, especially if you’ve asked your doctor, “Why does my back hurt?”

To avoid scenarios like this with your physician, there are several things you can do to prepare for your doctor’s visit, including:

  • Make a list in advance. Write down not only your complaints but also why they are important enough to see your doctor. These are your worries, he says.
  • Tell your doctor everything. Don’t leave out details, Dr. Truax says. He uses the analogy of taking your car to a mechanic. If you take your car in to repair the brakes, you're not surprised if the mechanic doesn’t look at the muffler.
  • Don’t leave things out because you are embarrassed. Sometimes saying things out loud before you go can make it easier to talk about private concerns, he says.
  • Take notes. There is a lot of information coming at you in a hurry. By taking notes, you can refresh your memory as needed.
  • Be persistent. Don't leave your doctor’s office until all of your questions have been answered.

Perhaps the biggest block in communicating is when either you or your doctor asks closed-ended questions. These require only a “yes” or “no” answer, although a “yes” or a “no” is only the beginning of the process.

For example, if you come in complaining of twinges in the neck, you might ask, “Is it normal to get a stiff neck in the morning?” If the doctor responds with a “no,” it could create unnecessary worry. A “yes” might cause you to ignore something more serious.

Rather, Dr. Truax recommends that you describe how and when it developed. Stiff necks occurring and ending in a single day could be a normal response to sleeping in an awkward position. If it occurs upon waking every morning, then that's not normal and probably needs to be explored, he says.

According to Dr. Truax, it's important not to be a spectator in your own health care.

“One aspect of a successful visit is when the doctor addresses your worries,” he says. “To do that, make sure they know your chief worry and your chief complaint.”

Robert Truax, DO is a family medicine specialist with University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network who focuses on sports-related injuries and rehabilitation. You can request an appointment with Dr. Truax or any other doctor online.

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