Sunday, 26 March 2017

How to make the most out of your GP/Hospital Appointment

If you haven't guessed by now, yes, my local doctors surgery staff all now recognise me by face as soon as I walk through the door and rightly so! Having a chronic illness means I spend a lot of my time at various doctor/hospitals.

I have often waited months for an appointment and spent weeks thinking of all the things in the short space of time I will have. Right now, I am currently being seen by just about every London hospital for an array of symptoms/diseases including the superior scotoma in my eye, MS testing, hyper mobility testing, treatment at the gastroentrology department, testing at the cardiac hospital, various neurologists... ok you get the idea! My point is, I consider that I have pretty much have a checklist for most appointments which includes:

1. Details of the Appointment
For me especially, I have an unreliable mobile phone which sometimes decides to randomly switch off, despite being fully charged. I have a traditional calendar, a file I carry with my appointment letter in, and of course, I set appointment reminders on my phone, should it decide to work! In my experience, appointments are constantly changing therefore, it can get rather confusing when you are attending and when you are not. Having a chronic disease the last thing you wish to do is to attend an appointment at the wrong day, time or hospital or even not attend your appointment at all, your days are precious and you need to make sure you have the most up-to-date and accurate appointment details, of what building, doctor, date and time as much as possible.

2. Prepare 
If there's anything that may help show the problem, if indeed there is anything to see then bring it along. Take photos if need be of your skin condition, the changes of your bloated stomach.

3. What do YOU Want From the Appointment?
Stick to the point, avoid waffling or umming and ahhing. Prep in advance and think about what you need to say and how you need to say so you feel more prepared and build up your confidence beforehand. I go to every important doctors appointment with a list of all the questions I have, and I hand the doctor a copy at the end of the appointment once they have given their point across and they have given their plan of attack. I have even be known to get my General Practitioner (who I see on a weekly basis), to check over my questions for upcoming consultant appointments as she can provide a different outlook, and gives me realistic medical advice on how to suggest particular things or medication to my consultants.

You need to prepare what you're requesting, is it a physical exam, a sick note, referral letter, blood tests? The worst thing they can do is say no!

4. What are the Next Steps?
In some cases you can guess at what the GP might suggest. Such as digestive issues, they will like to see a record of at least a week if not two and including the key points, i.e what you have eaten, when your symptoms occur, lifestyle - have you just carried out some exercise? What is your pain level and how long did it last? This is a really good way of evidencing the issues and how they vary. Doctors can gain an overview without you guessing when you ate what, and when your symptoms occurred. 

6. Have a record of your medication
There are some doctors that may wish to examine what you already take before prescribing or offering you to go for another solution. It saves some time if you can give them the information of what you're on, how many times a day, the dosage and since when. If you're in the UK most pharmacies have a "Medication Passport" you can pick up for free, which has information on your GP, your emergency contacts, allergies, medication you are on including dosage/timings and wheat you have previously been on it has made so many situations a lot easier, and is easy to update if you are regularly changing medication like I am. 

7. Consider some back-up
If you have been brushed off repeatedly, it starts becoming very disheartening going back time and time again to get similar results. It may be worth bringing along your partner, parent or close friend, who can respectfully stay in the background during the appointment looking fierce and stepping in if necessary to fight in your corner in a professional, diplomatic way. For the more important appointments, I ask my boyfriend to come long with me. As I've mentioned, I'm sometimes so anxious that I'm just completely flustered and don't stand up for myself. Just having someone who loves me there with me gives me the strength to be my own advocate.

8. Manage your own Expectations
Set your expectations with the doctor, and make sure to ask the right questions. "What relief can I expect to see in the next six weeks on this new medication?" Often I find doctors prescribe new medication, or continue you on previous medication, bobbing along in the water without really indicating, when you can expect to see changes, or without quantifying the improvement. Make sure you ask the expected changes are in order to manage your own expectations accordingly. 

9. Document
My biggest and most helpful tip I learnt from my ever-so friendly GP, is to record your appointments. Personally, I just use my phone to record these, I also write down key points in my notebook. I often find myself leaving the appointment having no memory of it, especially if I am stressed, explanations can be missed, which, by recording the appointments I can listen again or play to my parents or GP and they can listen for more detail on a particular topic i.e recommendations of new medications which you may not have remembered or in my case, my consultant often advises to change my medication and if that does not work, change it to X or double my dosage after X weeks.

10. Show your appreciation
The final point to make is probably the most overlooked and easiest to forget, yet will go a long way.  As mentioned, I have had my fair share of doctors, and there are some that have really gone above and beyond to help me. These doctors that understand the pain I suffer through,the impact of my chronic illness. and go above and beyond to help me. I see so many doctors or nurses forgetting the emotional impact that experiencing a chronic illness has on my life, my situations are made better by doctors who make sure I am comfortable, and holding my hand if I am in agony.

These techniques help me to feel more prepared and empowered, which, the more empowered I'm feeling, the more confident and relaxed I am in stressful doctor's appointments. It takes work and time to get better at it and I can definitely still have moments of panic and frustration but it's gotten better.

"The Hopeful Chronic"


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