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The Simple Strategy That Helps Me Manage My Medical Care

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Just like many people color-code their notes to make study and review time more productive, based on my experience it can be helpful to color-code your notes and questions in preparation for your next medical appointment to ensure you get the most out of the time with your doctor.

I had an important appointment for my ulcerative colitis that I had been preparing for. I also had other areas of concern that were related to the disease. I first formed all my questions and comments in my head for a few days. Then I wrote my list as I usually do, on notebook paper with a pencil. But then I realized how difficult it would be to navigate through each section without clear separations and I knew it needed a touch of color. The “morgue lighting” (as I like to call it) in doctor offices also makes it difficult to see a paper with just pencil on it.

I dug out my colored pens, picked four colors (bright pink, blue, purple, aqua) and began to copy my notes onto a fresh notebook page spread. I had four main sections:

  • GI Symptoms, Upper and Lower – I included detailed symptoms on this list.
  • Pelvic Pain Concerns – My lower GI symptoms also cause issues with this and I wanted to make my doctor aware, even if it meant he would refer me to another specialist.
  • Mental Health Concerns – I wanted the doctor to be aware of the effects of my worsening disease on my mental health. Too often this area is ignored.
  • Questions to Be Asked – I wanted to ask questions related to future tests, long-term issues, and dietary concerns.

Many times, one can feel rushed when in an appointment with a doctor, and it’s important to make sure all your questions and concerns are addressed for the best disease management possible.

When it came time for my appointment, I felt so organized with my notebook. No longer was I squinting to see pencil on my loose paper in which all my sections blended in. I could direct my eyes and navigate through each section instantly, which is important when you have limited time with a busy doctor. This helped when we circled back around to certain topics as well. I didn’t have to spend time scanning my eyes over my paper — I could just instantly see the symptom or concern I was looking for.

Color-coding your notes seems like such a simple task, but even though I love and use my art supplies often, I had never thought to apply color to my appointment notes.

I left my appointment feeling very satisfied that all my concerns were addressed. In fact, my doctors saw that I had multiple sections of colorful questions and symptoms in my notebook and even asked at the end of the appointment if I had touched on everything I need to discuss. I think this shows the doctor how important it is to you to do everything possible to get the right treatments and manage your chronic illness effectively.

The following are some tips for color-coding your own appointment notes:

  • Consider using a dedicated notebook or sketchbook to keep all your appointment notes in. This will let you see a chronological timeline of your notes over time. Be sure to date each entry.
  • Fine tip pens commonly used for bullet journaling are a good choice. The fine tip allows you to fit the words on notebook paper and remain eye-catching. It also doesn’t bleed through paper quite as much as other pens or markers. I have the Ibayam Journal Planner Pens found on Amazon. Staedtler also makes a good Fineliner Pen.
  • Consider choosing only three or four different colors. If you have more sections than this, just repeat the colors starting with the first one you used.
  • A zippered case can be used to keep your pens together. You can take this with you in case there is anything you want to add while you are waiting.
  • You may want to underline or draw boxes around the section headings. You can separate sections by drawing a row of dots or other decorative elements like chevrons or swirls. You can let your personality shine a little through this if you’d like.
  • When you are adding to the pages during your appointment as the doctor answers your questions, consider writing this in a medium to dark pencil as this will create a nice contrast. You are also less likely to get those notes confused with the notes you prepared ahead of time. Afterward, you can easily identify the different areas.

In a world of constantly feeling like you have no control over your chronic illness, enjoy the feeling of empowerment in knowing there are things you can do to advocate for yourself and take control of the things you can with something as simple as colored pens and a notebook. I look forward to preparing my notes now for each appointment as it really helps me keep my constellation of issues organized. (It also helps that colorful pens are fun to use!)

Originally published: September 6, 2021
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