Not to brag, but with anywhere from 2 to 8 medical appointments a week, I’m pretty skilled at preparing for them. In all seriousness, I have 6 chronic illnesses – 3 of which cause chronic pain – and have been actively been preparing for them since 2001. Since this fall will mark 17 years that I’ll have been chronically ill and in pain, I thought I would share my tactics for preparing for these appointments. I’ve seen doctors, nurses, and physical therapists that haven’t believed my pain, some who supported me and I saw at least once a month, fellows and residents who have never seen a patient like me, and some who were somewhere in between.
I hope that my tactics will help you, and make sure you scroll down to the bottom to check out two free printables. One is the sheet I use to keep track of medications, conditions, my medical team, and family history, and the other is one designed to help you put all of your symptoms in one place. I hope that these will help make your appointment as productive as possible!
Also – if this post or any other blog post on Kate the (Almost) Great has helped you, please consider voting for me to with the WEGO Health Award for Best in Show: Blog. You can endorse me (aka vote for me) here. Just click the button under my picture.
Chronically Ill Tips: Preparing for Medical Appointments
Organize your thoughts beforehand – I think this is the most important one and everything else on this list really comes from this. If you don’t do some kind of organization, you can forget something that is important. Some questions you can ask yourself are: What do you want to get out of the appointment? Why are you going to this appointment? What does this medical professional need to know? If this is not an appointment with a new member of your medical team, then you should also take note of anything that has changed since your last appointment. If you have a condition like fibromyalgia that can cause brain fog, I strongly suggest writing some things down. Make sure you put this list somewhere that you’ll remember to bring it. I always write these lists in my planner, as I bring that everywhere.
Talk to your loved ones/people you live with about what they’ve noticed – With several of my specialists, I see them every couple of months. A lot can happen in that time, so I always ask my parents if they have any questions for me to ask or if they’ve noticed anything different. Sometimes we’re on the same page, and some times something has happened in the previous 3 months that I’ve forgotten about in lieu of other things. If you live with your partner, you might ask them if they have any questions or things to bring up, and if you live with roommates, you might ask them if they’ve noticed anything different about your health since your last appointment. While this can help you remember something that you’ve forgotten about, it can also bring up something that you may not have noticed. For example, while those of us with chronic pain are generally more in tune with our bodies and their changes, we may miss that we’ve been turning down invitations more than usual if it happened at a slow and steady pace. Getting that feedback may help you notice what you’ve forgotten.
Gather any images or test results you have – This is especially important if your doctors are not a part of the same system. What I mean is that almost all members of my medical team are based at Massachusetts General Hospital, and with technology how it is now, they can pull up all tests or imaging done at MGH. It doesn’t matter that my cardiologist is out in Waltham and the rest of my team is in Boston; she can pull up any tests that were done in Boston. So if you’re seeing someone who is at a different office or is a second opinion, make sure you have any relevant images or testing with you. Don’t have it? This is your personal medical history, so you have a right to it. You can call the office that has what you need and they will mail it to you, or you can pick it up. Make sure you leave enough time between when you call and when your appointment is because for some offices it can take a while to get to you. I’m pretty sure it’s because they don’t send you the only copy of the information; they have to make a copy for you. I did this several years ago and it took weeks for my history to get to me. Turned out it was like 100 pages that they had copies because medical bureaucracy, you know?
Also I have a very long medical history shhh
Write down a history of the problem you’re having – I find this especially important for issues that I’ve been having for years. When did it first start? What could have contributed to it? What makes it better or worse? How has it been recently? These are all questions that you will be asked, and you want to make sure that, when you’re seeing a new doctor for this issue, you start at the beginning and go chronologically. This is something I always mess up: I start in the middle, or I skip around, or (worst of all) I forget important details. That’s why it’s so important that you write it down before you go in. If it’s a complicated issue that has been bothering you for a long time, you might write it down to give to the doctor. The other option is to write it down just to get your thoughts in order. This will help you be prepared for the appointment and hopefully not too flustered, which is a situation I’ve found myself in too often.
Organize your medical history and medications beforehand – This is one of the most important things you can do. How is this different than above? If you take more than 3 medications, it can be difficult to remember the exact dosages of them. It’s also important to share allll of your medical history and not just what you’re seeing that doctor for. You might not know if one chronic illness could influence a different part of your health or vice versa. Additionally, you need to include your family’s health history. For example, my aunt and cousin both have other autoimmune diseases. My cousin was diagnosed a few years ago, and his doctors needed to know that I and our aunt both have autoimmune diseases. We all have different ones, but that family history made sure that his doctor considered him having an autoimmune disease. You might not know that a family history of x condition could cause the same of different condition in you. And this usually takes pre-work, such as calling different family members and making notes of who has what. How can you keep track of it all? Download the free printable medication and medical history organizer. This is my #1 thing that I always have. I have a copy of it folded in my wallet. I print out new copies to give to my medical team – especially because medical offices usually only give you a couple of lines to write medications and family history. Get it here.
Organize your symptoms beforehand – How is this different than the other things mentioned in this post? I think it’s important to do a person inventory on all of your symptoms that the medical professional should know about. Many offices will give you a form to check out any symptoms that you might have, but if you’re in a rush or the doctor is in a rush, something might get missed. It’s important to figure it out before you go into your appointment. To help you, I’ve pulled together a free large symptom organizer to help you figure things out beforehand. It includes how long you’ve been having symptoms, what makes them better or worse, and more. Check out the symptom organizer here.
What do you always do to prepare for medical appointments if you’re chronically ill?
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