O is for Office Visits – #AtoZ Challenge 2018
Today’s topic for the letter O shall be office visits. This will include such things as how to adequately prepare for, participate in, and get the most out of the limited face time you may get with your physician or other advanced practitioners. How hard can this be, you may be thinking. Well, in reality, it isn’t hard per se but many people have never learned how to do it effectively.
In today’s healthcare system where providers are expected to see more and more patients in an ever decreasing amount of time, this is an essential part of you being your own best advocate. Even if you are among the lucky ones to have adequate time with your provider, it is still your responsibility to make the most effective use of that time. By following a few simple suggestions you can achieve this while increasing the efficiency of your interactions with your provider and by extension the level of your own care.
I made a form a few years ago that I will share here for you to print out and use as a template for your office visits. It may look complicated at first, and as with anything new, it may take some time to get used to. However, I can tell you from speaking with many physicians and advanced practitioners that it makes their side of the appointment much easier and improves the quality of the time they get to spend with the patient addressing other needs or concerns.
Whether you use my form or not is entirely up to you. You can handwrite the same information, legibly of course, on a sheet of paper if you so desire. Or you can simply print mine and fill it in, or if you have access to PDF editing software you can even complete it on your computer prior to printing.
There are some simple things to include in a list when you are preparing for your office visit, some of which can be started as early as when you finish your previous office visit. For example, let’s say you just saw your doctor and as you’re getting in your car you remember something that you wanted to ask but slipped your mind. You know you will be returning in a month to review lab work. Start a new sheet for that office visit and go ahead and start adding things to it now so you don’t forget a month from now. You could add the item that slipped your mind. You could even add an item to review the lab work lest you forget.
Looking at the provided form you on the very top left, in the header, you put your name. On the right side of the same header, you put the date of your appointment. Immediately below that, you will see in big, bold, red letters a spot for medication allergies. If you are allergic to any medications or have severe life-threatening allergies to something you would put that here. For example, if you are allergic to latex, or penicillin that information should go here for the provider to plainly see.
Then following down the left side of the page you then list your medications one at a time starting with the medication name in the first column. Let’s say, for example, that you take the medication Lisinopril 10mg once daily every morning for hypertension (high blood pressure). The name Lisinopril would go in the name field. Then the strength of the medication in the next column typically indicated on your pill bottle as mg or mgs, which refers to milligrams and in the above example would be 10mg. The next column is frequency, which refers to how often you take it. You could put once daily here and you would be correct.
However, some medications are more effective or even better tolerated at different times of the day. So let’s be as specific as we can to give our physician the most complete information to work with so you could write once daily at breakfast, or once daily in a.m. to show when you take it. This detail can be especially useful with some medications that may cause drowsiness as a side effect so it is important to be as specific as you can. Moving on to the next two columns, these are simply checkboxes in which first you indicate if you take the medication daily, or on strictly an as needed basis (PRN). In some more unusual circumstances you may need to check both these boxes for the same medication, but typically it will be one or the other.
An important note in completing the medication side of the form is that it is highly recommended that you include everything you take. By this, I mean that you should include vitamins, supplements, over the counter medications etcetera as this will give your doctor a complete picture of your medications and any potential interactions with anything you are either already taking that could be hazardous to you, or something new that they may wish to prescribe.
While this particular item does not apply to me personally, I would suggest that you also consider listing medical marijuana if you have been legally prescribed to take it and it is legal where you live. I am neither a pharmacist nor a physiologist so I can’t even begin to speculate as to how different forms of medical marijuana may alter or interact with other medications.
Lastly on the medication side of the form I also like to list any treatments I may currently be on that would need to be continued should I be admitted to the hospital so that in the chaos of admission paperwork things to not get overlooked. For example, I use BiPap to treat my obstructive sleep apnea and cannot sleep without it. Therefore I list it under the medication side of the list with the appropriate information so that the admitting physician can see that an order will need to be written to include that therapy while in the hospital as well.
The right side of the list is rather self-explanatory, but starting on the top right you would list any medications you need refills on either now or before your next appointment. A little bit of planning goes a long way here. Check your bottles before your appointment and if you know that you see this doctor every three months but you still have one refill left, some simple math will tell you that you will need more before you see the doctor again. List that medication here so there is no interruption in your medication regimen, and you don’t have to play phone tag with the office to get a refill when you do need it.
Below the section for refills is a section where you can list any items that need to be addressed during this visit. Some things to think about when completing this section include such things as have you had any labs or imaging studies since your last appointment that you wish to get the results on? Add this to your list of topics to address. If they order follow up tests you can even start the list for your next appointment now, during or after the current appointment, so that neither of you forgets to review the results next time.
Has your condition changed whether improved or worsened since your last visit? If so detail how so that you and your doctor can discuss the changes and modify treatment as necessary. Are you experiencing a new problem? List it here so that you don’t forget to bring it up. Anything that you feel either the doctor should address or that you wish to inquire about should be put here, no matter how small or inconsequential you feel the item may be. Sometimes the little details make all the difference.
Lastly, in this section, you should also include a brief synopsis of any visits you may have had with other practitioners since your last appointment. In this manner, you can be sure to address things that other professionals may have done since you last saw this particular doctor to ensure that nothing gets overlooked or interacts with what another provider has done.
I’ve had numerous occasions where one doctor would order a medication and when I next saw another specialist they informed me that while that medication may normally be appropriate for most people it was not appropriate for me because it would interact with one of my other medications or exacerbate any underlying condition that the other physician may not have thought of particularly if it was outside their area of expertise.
If completing the form on your computer I suggest you print two copies, but if you are completing it by hand simply ask the office staff to make a copy for you once you get there. Then when the medical assistant wants to review your medications, you can hand them the list. When they are done with it they can leave it in the exam room with you on the computer, for the doctor to see.
Once the doctor comes in you can simply ask him to follow along. Refills needed are clearly indicated for them to complete in the computer as you start to address your list of items to discuss. Many physicians have told me that it has made our brief encounters much more organized and efficient as we can easily address the items in short order as opposed to having to sit there trying to remember what it was you wanted to ask the doctor about. The purpose of the copy is so that you can both follow along and on the bottom of your copy you can take notes as to answers to your questions, new treatments ordered, medication changes, etcetera.
When you get home from your appointment is a perfect time to go ahead and start a new form for the next appointment and add anything that you may have forgotten to include on this visit’s form, or that you and your doctor have agreed needs to be revisited at a later time. By doing this you can make your visits much more productive as well as get the answers and information you need to be a more productive member of your own healthcare team.
Do you have suggestions for what should be added to this form? Do you have another way of doing it that works for you? Let us know in the comments as we are working on various adaptations of this form for the future to suit various situations. We’d love to hear from you!
PS – You can find the form by clicking on the link here: Blank MedList from Tupeak Hope.