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Diabetes & the Doctor’s Appointment

Tips to help your healthcare provider help you

Have you ever walked out of your doctor’s office (or the office of any member of your healthcare team) unsure what you’re supposed to do, why he or she has just prescribed a new medicine or wants you to get a particular lab test, or just confused whether things are getting better or worse? You’re not alone.

In my experience, visits with health care professionals are often short, and not everything I might like to discuss gets discussed. But over the years, I’ve found a few tips that may help you get the most out of the time you do spend with your providers; I think of them as five ways in which you can help your doctor help you. I believe these are appropriate for a visit with almost any healthcare professional.

1. Bring questions.

Write down any questions you may have – whatever you’re concerned about, if something doesn’t seem right, or any confusion you may have about your medicines, blood sugar, lab tests, anything – and bring your questions with you. It’s easy to forget what we want to ask when we’re actually sitting in front of our doctor. Also bring a pen or pencil (or your smartphone) to write down the answers!

2. Have a friend or family member come with you.

You might feel a little nervous at the doctor’s office. Maybe you’re worried about a test result, a new ache or pain, or the prospect of hearing bad news. When we’re in a heightened state of anxiety, all of our senses may seem diminished. Having someone with you can help serve as an extra set of eyes and ears in case you may miss anything important.

3. Be frank and open.

(Another way to put this is “don’t lie to your doctor!”) Try not to let personal worries, guilt, or embarrassment stop you from talking frankly with your doctor. Sharing information with your healthcare professional about your concerns is important. Just a few examples of possible discussion topics include things like: Your feet seem to tingle now, or something that’s changed, like you never used to go to the bathroom during the night and now you wake up to go three times. Even if you’re unsure whether something’s worth mentioning, if you have a gnawing little feeling that it might be, do share! In my experience, sharing the knowledge you carry about yourself can be as important to your health as your doctor’s knowledge.

4. Ask again or repeat back instructions/information.

If you’re not sure you heard your doctor correctly, he or she said something too quickly, or you didn’t understand the instructions or directions, ask your doctor to repeat what was said. Some examples may include how many pills to take at lunch or how to use your new insulin pen. Another way to check you heard correctly is to repeat back to your doctor what you heard. For instance, “You’re saying I should take two pills with lunch, is that right?” You’re always better off to be safe, confirming you heard correctly, than potentially being sorry that you didn’t.

5. Say something nice.

We’re only human. Your doctor may be having a stressful day or unhappy he or she doesn’t have as much time to spend with you as they might like. A small compliment or expression of appreciation may help the doctor slow down, focus on you, and listen more attentively.

Here is a list of questions I like to ask at each visit (this is just a sampling, you may have some additional, or different, questions based on your own personal history):

  • “How am I doing?”
  • If you’ve recently had any lab work or tests:
    • “What were the results?”
    • “What do they mean?”
    • “What should I do to improve my numbers?”
    • “Can I have a copy of my results?”
  • “How often should I check my blood sugar?” or “Can we discuss the blood sugar results I brought?”
  • “Is it time for me to have an A1C test?” (Read more about the A1C test here.)
  • “Would you please examine my feet and take my blood pressure?”
  • “What should I focus on now?”

The more you can help your healthcare team give you the information you need, the more able you’ll be to take the best possible care of your diabetes – and in turn you may better know where you stand, how things are going, and what to do next. Helping your doctors help you is always a win-win in my book.

Riva Greenberg is the author of Diabetes Do’s & How-To’s, writes a column on diabetes on The Huffington Post, and blogs on her website, DiabetesStories.com. Greenberg is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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