For many patients, even a simple wellness visit with their regular primary care doctor can provoke “white coat syndrome”- a sense of intimidation, anxiety or confusion. Responsible for more than just a spike in blood pressure, this can make it hard to communicate with your doctor, especially when many medical appointments today are only five to twenty minutes long.
ICS Member and Independence Radio host Stephanie Wallace recently sat down with Dr. Kwame Kitson to talk about how all of us can make the most of our medical appointments. Dr. Kitson is ICS’s Medical Director and a family doctor with over 25 years of experience. He is affiliated with the Institute for Family Health, where he serves as vice president of Continuous Quality Improvement, and where a number of ICS members receive medical care.
The State of The Art
Gone are the days when going to the doctor meant being lectured in a language you could hardly understand, often leaving you confused, alienated or anxious. In recent years there’s been an emphasis on making medical appointments more of a two-way conversation, where the concerns, lifestyle and habits of the patient come first. While it’s still true that the doctor almost always knows best when it comes to medical knowledge, a vocal and informed patient who is prepared to be his or her own advocate will get the most out of a medical visit.
Some strategies Dr. Kitson recommends for getting the most out of your medical appointment include:
- Bring your top three to five concerns to the provider’s attention. Any more will probably not allow them to address each issue thoroughly in the time allotted. You should plan for a follow-up visit if necessary.
- Enroll in any available Patient Portal system. Some doctors’ offices have an online communication tool that allows for secure messaging with their patients – it is kind of like email but more protected from online snoops. This can give you nearly instant access to test results, and allow you to ask questions and request prescription refills online. In turn, this can help you stick with your treatment or care plan and also mean fewer office visits are needed. It’s important to note that you can also give permission for someone you trust, such as a family member, to use these systems to communicate with your doctor if you are unable to do so because you are too ill or don’t feel comfortable using a computer.
- Remember that you are in charge of your care. You always have the right to view and ask questions about your medical record or care plan, and to receive printed or electronic copies if you want them.
Too Much Data?
These days it’s also important to remember that the conversation between doctor and patient extends beyond the exam room. Many sources of information can influence the conversation, in both helpful and not-so-helpful ways.
For example, getting the opinion of a specialist can give your primary care doctor important information and help in developing a care plan. Some patients worry that getting a second opinion will be frowned upon by their doctor, but they shouldn’t. “We are human beings, and sometimes a diagnosis is beyond what we can handle,” says Dr. Kitson. “I have no trouble sending a patient for a second opinion if it’s in their best interest.”
More information is not always better, however. In the age of Google, it’s important to resist becoming your own armchair physician. Self-diagnosis based on the massive amounts of often-unreliable information available to anyone with an internet connection is never a good idea.
Still, Dr. Kitson says, if you must go online to looking to learn more about your health, there are sources you can trust for basic information that has been reviewed by medical professionals.
These include: The National Institute of Health (NIH); The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); The New York City Department of Health; The New York State Health Department; The US Preventative Task Force
While these can be valuable for learning about health and help you make a list of questions for your doctor, you should never attempt to make a definitive diagnosis on your own.
It’s Your Time
Changing attitudes and being armed with the right questions can be very empowering. If, for any reason, you feel like you aren’t able to have a productive, honest and open relationship with your doctor, it’s probably time to find someone else.
You can listen to the interview with Dr. Kitson on SoundCloud here. And remember to tune in to Independence Radio regularly for the latest from ICS and Stephanie Wallace on healthcare, advocacy, policy, relationships and much more.
Thomas Pascal is a neuroscience and psychology student and writer, whose work explores disability as identity. He plans to volunteer with local area hospitals and healthcare organizations including the NYU Langone Medical Center and Northwell Health, hoping to use his experiences with disability to provide compassionate support to patients and their families.