Speaking to Your Doctor: Top Tips For Your Appointment
Taking that crucial step to consult a healthcare professional about a problem that has been worrying you can be intimidating. Sadly, I’ve seen many patients who delayed seeking help and advice simply because they didn’t want to be a bother. Reluctance and anxiety around seeking medical help have unfortunately worsened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. According to GP Online, fewer people went to their family doctor, and Accident and Emergency department attendance plummeted.
Remember, helping you with your health concerns is exactly what health professionals are here for. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you’re worried about your physical or mental health, or if you have noticed something unusual for you. However, if you’re a little anxious, apprehensive, or nervous about speaking to a health professional, read on. as a doctor, I’ve seen patients struggle with what to say in their appointments. However, if patients remember these key points, hopefully, they’ll be able to take away as much as they can from their short time with their physician
Please note: although Stef is a registered doctor in the UK, she is unable to give individual health advice through our website. If you are worried about a health problem please seek local medical advice, and contact emergency services in an emergency situation. If there is a health topic you would like Stef to write about, you can request this here.
Before Your Appointment
About your health problem: it can often help if you’re able to describe your problem in more depth. This could include the different symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Think about when they started, in what order, and what makes them better or worse. If you can’t be specific, don’t worry as your health professional has been trained in the correct questions to ask you to decide what to do next.
Taking someone with you: Would you like someone to go with you, like a family member or a friend? They could attend the appointment with you, or they could wait in the waiting room. N.B. this may not always be possible depending on pandemic-related restrictions. It might help to have someone you can call immediately before and after your appointment for support.
What do you want to know? I would recommend thinking about what you would like to get from the appointment, and noting down any questions you might have. You can bring these notes with you, and review them during the consultation to ensure that you get the answers you need.
During Your Appointment
Recording the appointment: If you’re worried about forgetting information given to you, simply ask the health professional if you can record the appointment. This can be done using the ‘voice memo’ function or similar on your smartphone. I would recommend asking as soon as possible, ideally at the start of the appointment.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! If your health professional says anything that you don’t understand, please don’t hesitate to ask them to explain or repeat themselves. I have seen so many patients over the years who were unaware they had certain medical conditions or didn’t know what they were. Sadly, this was usually because their doctor didn’t check their understanding and didn’t explain things helpfully. Your doctor should provide information in a way you can understand, so please speak up if you’re confused!
Don’t be embarrassed. No, really. There is no need to be embarrassed or feel shame about any health issue. Your doctor is there to do their best for you and your health, and they should be trained not to judge. Most health professionals have a duty of confidentuality, so you can be honest with them. And I promise you, they really have seen it all before!
After Your Appointment
Take the next steps: Have they given you some lifestyle advice? A prescription? Some investigations such as blood tests or a scan to book? Or a follow-up appointment with them or a specialist to arrange? I would recommend taking any recommended actions as soon as possible, so you don’t forget them or delay the treatment or investigation process.
Looking for more information: Depending on your particular health problem or diagnosis, you might wish to look for more information. Various resources providing accessible and jargon-free information on many different health and treatment topics are below:
- NHS.uk has an extensive A-Z of health topics, as well as a medicines A-Z, and a tool for people based in the UK to find their nearest A&E, pharmacy, dentist and GP.
- HealthLine has a great evidence-based source of health-related support and information. It is used widely throughout the USA. Patient.info is a UK-based alternative whose extensive collection of articles on conditions and treatments is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals.
- For anything cancer-related, CRUK and Macmillan are fantastic sources of information for patients and families/carers
- British Heart Foundation webpage is great for any heart-related problems and conditions