Doctor’s appointments are short, which makes it extremely difficult to cover everything you need. To take control of your limited time, and make sure your doctor hears all of your concerns, pre-planning is key.
Meeting with a clinician for the first, or even the eighth, time can feel extremely intimidating. It’s difficult to sum up your life history and mental health in a relatively short time span, especially when it seems like your provider has already set the agenda for what needs to be addressed during your visit. A bit of advance preparation can help ensure that you get the most out of your limited appointment time.
Know your goals.
Reflect ahead of time on which issues or questions you most want to address during a particular appointment. It’s completely fine to show up with a written list, or tell your clinician which topics you want to cover right at the beginning of a session. Your clinician can then allocate time accordingly. Patients often leave their most important (or embarrassing) questions for the end, which means discussion is rushed or incomplete.
If you go in with a long list, don’t be surprised if your clinician asks you to pick a few topics of focus for that day; you may need to schedule additional appointment time to cover everything adequately.
Know what information your clinician is likely to need.
For an initial evaluation, your clinician will need to obtain some basic background information. The more efficiently you can relay this information, the more time you save for the issues that are most important to you. Be prepared to answer questions about:
- Mental health treatment history
- Substance use history
- Current substances used (which ones, how much, and how often)
- Which ones you’ve tried, and which you’ve used regularly in the past
- Any prior treatment specifically for substance use
- Medical history
- Current or chronic medical issues
- Current medications (including alternative or over-the-counter treatments)
- Allergies to medications
- Family mental health history (including substance-use disorders and suicides)
For regular appointments, it can be very helpful to track your symptoms between visits. Many people use smartphone or web-based apps to track their daily mood and other key symptoms (e.g. sleep, energy level). This way you can easily reflect on whether anything has changed significantly since the last appointment. If there have been changes, knowing the time course and identifying contributing factors (e.g. a change in medications and/or new life stressors) may help you and your clinician decide on next steps.
Ask what to expect with new treatments.
Remember to ask about:
- Common side effects
- Time course (e.g. how long should it take to work)
- The time of day you should take the medication
- What should you do if you miss a dose?
- Any red flags that should prompt you to call your clinician before the next appointment, and/or go to the emergency room
If your appointment time is limited, many of these questions can also be answered by your pharmacist.
Keep up with regular appointments even if you’re feeling better.
The times when you’re feeling better are great opportunities to focus on relapse prevention. Your clinician can help you determine which factors are contributing to your success, identify warning signs for when symptoms recur, and create a back-up plan. It’s much easier to proactively manage your mental health than to wait until a time of crisis to intervene.
Speak up if you don’t feel like your clinician is really helping.
If you feel that specific concerns are not being addressed, please feel empowered to speak up! Your clinician will likely assume that things are going just fine unless you make a point of saying otherwise. Similarly, feel free to ask questions at any point––you should leave appointments with an understanding of the plan and why you’re doing what you’re doing. A good clinician will also be comfortable with you obtaining a second opinion.
Printed as “Ask the Doctor: Making the Most of Your Appointment With Your Clinician” Spring 2019
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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