The Mighty Logo

How to Manage Doctors' Appointments When You're a 'Professional Patient'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Today I want to talk about how to get the most out of your doctor’s appointment. Navigating the world of chronic illness is like traveling to a foreign country, not speaking the language and not knowing the customs — while being too worn out to actually enjoy the experience of travel. It’s overwhelming, overstimulating, and like being dropped down in a strange place without a map. Self-preservation becomes key, and yet, just preserving yourself, just surviving isn’t much of a way to live.  There have to be ways to economize, a shorthand, ways to cut corners in some areas of life so one can carve out some quality of life in other areas. Here’s my handy guide for going to the doctor, including ways to conserve time and a bit of yourself in the process.

Before you go, think about shortcuts that are available. Does your doctor’s office have an online check-in process? If so, take advantage!  Any time you save on the front end is helpful – that’s less time waiting in line, less opportunity for germ exposure, potentially time saved waiting for the physician.  While you’re at it, be sure you have your current ID and medical cards with you in case they need copies of them at the desk.

Think about your comfort. How long are you likely to be there? Will you need things like meds or any creature comforts while you’re there? Do you need to travel with aids like a walker, cane or other supports? Should you bring along a pillow? Water? Snacks? There have been times in my illness that I have been too weak or in too much pain to stay seated in the waiting room until I’m called back for my appointment. In these cases, I have asked as I’ve checked in to be immediately roomed so I can lay down until I meet with the doctor. This simple request was a revelation to me in my ability to manage doctors’ visits. Preserving my energy this way made the appointment the focus of my energy, not sitting up in a noisy, lighted waiting room.

Similarly, as you get situated in the exam room, ask for what you need to make the wait more manageable. For me, at different times I have requested: low lights (or lights off), to have the table laid down, pillows, a blanket. I have waited as long as four hours for one of my specialists. While this is uncommon, it has happened.  This was at an appointment that happens quarterly at a hospital four hours away from my home.  However long he took that day, I was likely to wait. But for you, that might be different.

You may decide that if a doctor is more than 30 minutes late for an appointment, you need to call it and go home. It reminds me of the concept of having a “go point” with a traffic light as you approach. At what point would you still “go” versus stop if the light turned yellow? It’s the same with a doctor. Would you need to just leave after a set period of time?  Does it depend on the doctor? The day? Deciding this for yourself matters. Reclaiming control for ourselves over the things we can control is important. For me, on that particular four-hour day, seeing that physician was a matter of critical health importance. Also, he is a doctor who gives me all the time I need so I was less frustrated by the fact that he was giving his other patients the same courtesy.

Lastly, one way I preserve my mental health (having memory issues and brain fog) is by keeping my recent and relevant medical information all together in one place. For me, this is a two-pocket folder and a legal pad. I bring these with me to all my appointments. In the pockets go any documents, summaries, or instructions I get from my doctors.  I write my questions for each of the doctors I see on the legal pad and then take notes during my appointment or ask my wife to do that if she is attending with me. That way when I see the doctor next, or see my next doctor, I have an account of what details I may need to discuss – the updates made to my medications, what things I discussed at our last appointment/with the previous physician, the fact that some important detail (like my weight or blood pressure) has changed. I also get out this pad any time I think of a question between appointments so I can have it handy for my next appointment.  If I am away from home or the pad, I use my phone to keep track.

There are days that having chronic illness can feel like being a professional patient. By having some systems to manage being a patient, it takes out some of the guesswork and means I don’t have to spend as much of my free time thinking about my doctors’ appointments.

This story originally appeared on Annette’s blog.

Getty image by BongkarnThanyakij.

Originally published: November 24, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home