4 Simple Steps On How to Prepare for A Doctor’s Appointment

In the coming month, I am preparing for my annual doctor visit to my cardiologist, and if you are a chronic illness warrior like me, you go to the doctor at least once a year, if not more, so finding ways to make appointments smooth is a must.

Living with a congenital heart defect has taught me a lot through the years about properly preparing for a doctor’s appointment whether that is my primary care physician or my cardiologist. White Coat Syndrome is something I have had to deal with personally in my health journey, but I follow simple steps prior to my appointment to set myself up for success despite any anxiety I may feel.

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As with anything in life, preparation is key to setting yourself up for success, and intentionally taking an active role to prepare is a self love investment in your health journey. My encouragement is to show yourself some love and follow these simple steps to prepare for your next trip to the doctor's office.

Step 1: Mindset:

You’ll hear me talk about mindset quite a lot in my chronic illness journey, and it is a HUGE part of thriving with something like CHD. That goes the same for preparing for a doctor’s visit. You have to get your mind right FIRST.

It starts with defining what will make that appointment successful.

What is your goal for this appointment? What do you hope to accomplish?

You have to define what “successful” means, and that also means being realistic about your goals. You can’t expect to be cured or get every question answered the way YOU want. That shouldn’t be your definition of success.

Rather, than dictating the success of the appointment on a particular outcome, base it on your growth as an advocate for yourself.

For instance, when I go in for my annual cardiology appointment, I consider it a successful visit when…

  • I asked the questions I needed to & clarifying one's when needed

  • I learned something new that will benefit me

  • I showed kindness to my doctors/nurses

Secondly, this doctor’s appointment may be for you, but anytime you are in a medical environment, you are engaging with other humans with real emotions, problems, and lives of their own. This means that they may bring some of those stresses, stories, experiences into the examination room without them really even realizing it either.

Have you ever had a slightly testy nurse or rude doctor? Well, me too. You’re not alone.

And while we don’t have control over what medical staff bring into the appointment or even the outcome of the appointment in general, we do have control over how we treat others at the appointment.

Chances are, when you are intentionally kind and respectful to medical staff, you are more likely to have a more pleasant time.

Acknowledging the “humanness” of your doctors and medical staff is a part of having a healthy mindset for your appointment. Let’s face it, they are not perfect, and you aren’t either, but collectively we can make each other better.

It is as simple as thanking the medical staff or saying “I am grateful for what you do” that can make a difference in the atmosphere of the entire appointment. Take an interest in your nurses and doctors. Ask them questions about their life, interests, or even why they got into the medical field. Here are some questions I LOVE asking nurses and doctors. I am shocked by some of the amazing stories and responses I have gotten.

  • What brought you into your field?

  • What’s your favorite part about being a _______ doctor/nurse?

  • Do you have any crazy or funny stories from your time in your practice/field?

As “ice-breaker” as these questions sound, it literally is one of my greatest tools for “dis-arming” people. I think in today's medical environment, there is a push for productivity and numbers for doctors and nurses. And while that can be frustrating for both sides of the equation, we as patients can still engage in that human to human powerful interaction for the time we have been given in that appointment.

The cool thing is, you have the ability to affect the atmosphere surrounding your appointment EVEN if you don’t get the news that you were hoping for. It takes incredible people to serve in the medical field. I am grateful for that. I mean look… we aren’t ALL doctors and nurses for a reason.

We as patients can remind doctors and nurses about their “why” in this field. We can call that passion out of them and make them even better doctors and nurses because of it. It all starts with an intentional mindset of kindness and grace.

So to recap. The first step in preparing for a doctor’s appointment is getting your mindset right. That includes defining “success” for the appointment and actively looking for ways to positively affect the atmosphere of your appointment regardless of the outcome.

Step 2: Documentation

After you have prepared mindset-wise for your appointment, it is a good idea to be thorough in your documentation by having your insurance information, medical history, and questions prepared ahead of time.

Medical Documentation

I get it. We all have busy lives, and it’s easy to wait until the last minute to gather our insurance information, fill out pre-appointment paperwork, or map out our directions to the appointment.

I can tell you from experience that if I don’t have these items prepared, I feel frazzled at appointments, and then I feel rushed, disappointed, and frustrated. Depending on your doctor, it may be a bit different, but creating a pre-appointment checklist of items needed is the same idea across the board. Personally, for my annual appointments each year, I am going up to the mega hospital in the city nearest me and therefore I make sure I do the following:

  • Make sure my insurance card is ready to go

  • Verify my copay for that healthcare provider & have my payment method ready to go

  • Complete pre-appointment paperwork if available beforehand

  • Pre-write out my medical history and applicable family health history (it’s nice to have on hand in case you are asked on the spot about it on paperwork or by a doctor directly)

  • Write out any new prescriptions or current medications

  • Map out directions to the doctor & departure times needed to get there at least 15 minutes early

These are all steps that have helped me walk into my appointment focused and less stressed about the details. Most of the time, I do this almost a week before my appointment to give me enough time to prepare.

Question Documentation

This type of documentation takes a little more practice and time, but it is a huge part of setting yourself up for success. When I say this, I am talking about writing out a list of questions and documenting any new symptom that has come to light.

Appointment Questions

For me, I use a notebook or my phone to write out important questions that I have. Even if I don’t have a lot of specific questions to ask, I have back-up prompts which I will lay out below. By doing this, as I am receiving feedback from the doctor, I am prepared to ask clarifying questions in order to get all the information and a better understanding.

Example questions:

  • What are the long-term side effects of this new medication?

  • Are there other treatment options?

  • Why do I need this medical test?

  • What has the success rate been?

  • What can I be doing better in my lifestyle to help?

  • Where can I learn more about my condition/diagnosis?

  • May I get a second opinion?

It is SO important that if you don’t understand something a doctor is saying to ask for clarification! Asking questions is in your control!

Symptom Tracking

I personally use a symptom tracker that I got off of Amazon to record a new symptoms or patterns that I’ve noticed. For instance, with the chronic conditions of my heart, I have noticed a certain tightness in my chest and palpitations around different times in my hormonal cycles. I have kept a log of those times and any applicable blood pressure readings, oxygen level readings, symptoms, and more to explain to my doctor.

By giving them actual plotted data with a list of your symptoms, you are better able to help your doctors understand the symptoms rather than just saying “I get chest pain every so often.” It's a win win for everyone involved when I am an advocate in such a way. I encourage you to take the time to have that information ready when you are preparing for a doctor's appointment.

To summarize, when it comes to documentation, set yourself up for a smooth appointment with the proper documentation from medical documents to the questions that need to be addressed. Trust me, it does make all the difference, and as you get better in this preparation, you will gain more and more confidence as an advocate for yourself.

Here is the exact symptom tracker I use from Amazon.

Step 3: Create Comfort

Even after years of going to doctor’s appointments, surgeries, tests, and more it still feels out of my comfort zone to be in hospital rooms or doctor’s offices. That’s why I do what I can to make myself feel as comfortable as I can from the clothes I wear to what I bring.

Clothes: I always make sure I am wearing something comfortable and that makes me feel good about myself. Hey, if you feel your best in pajamas, go for it hun. ;) For me, wearing a super cute athleisure outfit makes me feel comfy and confident.

Appearance: While it may seem easier to just roll out of bed or not really care about your appearance at the doctor’s office, especially if you are going in for tests, I am a firm believer in the concept “look good, play good.” It’s a funny thing that my teammates and I used to say to each other as we primped before volleyball games together.

As conceited as it may sound, I think it works.

For me, I make it a point to do my hair and makeup very nicely. I am not saying you have to go to all prom appearances or anything, but taking some intentional time to spiffy up can do some good.

Entertainment: Coming prepared for appointments also means coming prepared to wait. I don’t know about you, but I have been caught waiting LONG amounts of time at the doctor’s office waiting to see the doctor or get test results so I have learned to bring some entertainment items. Here is a list of things I often bring prepared.

  • A book

  • Thank You Notecards to Write Notes

  • Downloaded movies, songs, podcasts on My Phone

  • A journal

Now, you might be wondering, why do I say “downloaded” for movies, songs, and podcasts. I can’t count the times that I’ve been waiting in doctor’s offices that either don’t have wifi or the hospital wifi isn’t very strong. This way, I am prepared either way.

For you, it may not be in your best interest to be on your phone before your appointment. Personally, I don’t like to be. If I am scrolling social media or a news banner pops up that puts an anxious thought in my head, it doesn’t help the anxiety I sometimes feel going into doctor’s appointments so I choose to read, journal, or write thank you notes. This keeps me calm and in a good zone for the appointment.

In the end, it’s about what works for YOU.

To recap this step, be sure that you are giving yourself some comfort in any way you can heading into a doctor's appointment from the clothes you wear to the entertainment you bring.

Step 4: Plan Your Celebration

The last step in preparing for your doctor’s appointment is honestly one of the most important. And that is to celebrate! Whether you are going for a wellness visit or tests, it’s important to plan your celebration regardless of the outcome. Your celebration may be a long nap or watching your favorite movie with a tub of your favorite ice cream. It’s up to you!

For me, I like to go out to lunch in the city near the hospital for some yummy grub with a family member or a treat on my way home to celebrate a wrapped up appointment. In this way, I am expressing my gratitude for being an advocate, the privilege to be able to go to a doctor, and the ability to learn.

Going to the doctor can be a fearful or even intimidating experience, but preparing the celebration to follow brings joy to the circumstance and something to look forward to.

These are my 4 simple steps I follow for how to prepare for a doctor’s appointment that have helped me over the years even as I have dealt with White Coat Syndrome at times because of living with pre-existing medical conditions. If you have found these steps helpful, I’ve included a pre-appointment checklist of these steps to help you!

Just click here to download!

While we can’t always control the outcome of our appointments, we can put forth the effort required to have successful appointments beforehand. Thank you for taking the time to invest in your advocacy journey by reading this post!

Be Victorious, Friends!

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