One of the most intimidating things about being a patient is the early stages of building a relationship with a new healthcare provider. Some underlying questions are often: Will they understand my concerns? Will I finally get a diagnosis? Will I hear bad news? The following resources can help make your first appointment better, pave the way for improved communication between you and your healthcare provider, and reduce your anxiety as a patient.
Step 1: Collect all medical records prior to the visit
If possible, bring your previous records with you, especially if the new provider is in a different hospital system. It is much easier for you to obtain them legally than it is for the doctor’s office to do so. Although most health systems have electronic records, they are not connected at all.
If you have documents to hand, you can also discuss the reported issues face-to-face with your clinician. The most important records to get are:
- Operational Reports.
- Radiology reports (X-ray, CT scan, MRI, etc.) showing an abnormality.
- Abnormal blood tests.
- Any other relevant records showing previous diagnoses or concerns.
In addition, if you’ve seen PTs, OTs, and psychologists, you can request a treatment summary of goals and outcomes. Some clinics may receive these documents by email and include them in your new file.
Step 2: Provide current information and history
Other vital information you should have on hand is a detailed list of your current medications, including dose and how often they are taken. Be sure to list any herbal supplements or vitamins you are taking. It’s important, because supplements can cause drug interactions or unwanted side effects, just like traditional medicines can.
Also provide all contact details of all healthcare providers you are currently visiting. If you give permission, the new doctor can both discuss the case with the other members of the care team who already support you and provide consultation letters for their records.
In addition, you may want to develop a historical record of your medical condition from its inception to the present day. A year-by-year record of how the condition or disease has progressed may include:
- How your symptoms have changed (both escalation and remission).
- How you have responded to medication (effective and ineffective).
- Which clinician seemed to have the most impact on your condition.
You may want to consider making a copy of this and giving it to your new provider and/or offering to send it by email.
Step 3: List the top concerns and considerations
By making a list in advance of the major problems that affect your life, the doctor will get an idea of your current level of functioning. It’s critical to emphasize exactly what you can’t (but used to be able to) on a day-to-day basis. By explaining this, you make it clear to the clinician that you are interested in wellness, rehabilitation, and working with your doctor on a plan of action.
It is most productive to provide examples that are specific, highlighting the functional/disability issue and the target area you would like to see covered by the clinician. Here are some examples:
|Give examples of your concerns|
|Not productive: “The mornings are really hard for me.”
Productive: “I’m very stiff in the morning, so I have to get up an hour earlier to get to work on time.”
|Not productive: “My back hurts so much, I cry a lot.”
Productive: “My back has been hurting every day, so I’ve stopped driving to the grocery store and have to get delivery, even if it doesn’t fit my budget.”
|Not productive:: “I’m dizzy all the time.”
Productive: “My dizziness made me fall in the shower, so my husband had to install a seat and a safety handle so I could wash myself.”
|Not productive: “I’m so depressed and anxious.”
Productive: “I worry that I may never function again and this makes me sad because I enjoy being active, taking care of my family and working.”
Once you’ve listed up to three major concerns, it’s recommended that you also develop some ideas for goals you’d like as a patient. Goals arise from your primary concerns and again, they are specific and constructive so that your doctor can develop an action plan for you that is achievable and relevant.
For example, an unproductive goal would be, “I want to feel better again.” While a productive goal might be, “I want to be able to walk in the park for an hour without feeling dizzy or nauseous.”
Step 4: Control and reduce anxiety
The majority of patients report varying levels of anxiety when meeting new caregivers for a variety of reasons, including fear of being misunderstood, concerns about not being taken seriously, and minimal time spent conceptualizing the nature of the problem.
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To address anxiety, the first step is acknowledging your stress and establishing ways to manage anxiety prior to and during the office visit. While anxiety is absolutely natural, it can jeopardize clear thinking, concise communication, and your ability to stand up for yourself.
Some people find that bringing a friend, partner or adult child to the appointment can be a great help in supporting you during the appointment. Anxiety also makes it difficult to digest medical information, as does pain and discomfort. Another person taking notes can make remembering the doctor’s instructions much easier. Your companion can also provide insight into the doctor’s affect and behavior in the event that your anxiety interferes with your judgment.
Finally, a partner can validate your concerns and provide additional examples of your functioning, which can help reduce the fear of being understood. For example, your adult child may say to the doctor, “My dad used to do chores around the house, but for the past six months I’ve seen him get frustrated because he can’t help anymore.”
There are also specific tools that can help you manage your anxiety both before and during your visit. We’ve provided a few options below for you to practice preparing for your appointment:
1. Inhale deeply and lengthen your exhale
Anxiety often causes you to breathe rapidly, which sends activation signals to your body, preparing it to overreact, which can cause you to hyperventilate. Deep breathing can slow this response pattern by pulling the ribcage up, allowing the chest to expand and release the pressure on the way down.
Example of a simple breathing exercise
Inhale, count for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds.
The key is to exhale very slowly and not focus too much on your inhale. Consciously linking your body to the slow pace of your breathing can reduce pressure and reduce overactive thoughts.
2. Make friends with your senses
The purpose of this exercise is to readjust your awareness to the present moment and your surroundings, bringing your mind into a calmer state of being. When you are focused on the here and now, you are reminded that there is no great threat or imminent danger and that you are safe.
Here are a few ways to get centered while at the healthcare provider’s office:
Pay attention to sounds or smells in your current environment. What do you hear? What can you see? Mention them in your head or to your partner, or even write them down on a piece of paper or in your phone. If you have cold water nearby, feel the temperature as you hold the cup or bottle.
Tighten the muscles and release them. Movements to release muscle tension can connect you to your sensations instead of focusing on your anxiety and negative thoughts. Tighten your fists and release them; contract and release your biceps; tense your shoulders and release them. Keep doing this with your accessible body parts.
Look for colors. Choose a color of your choice and search for objects of this color in the room you are in and name the objects.
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3. Use positive self-talk to calm yourself down
Repeating personal mantras, prayers, or a self-soothing inner dialogue can be a positive reminder of how you have successfully overcome fear or hardship in the past. Repetition can be short or long; this is ultimately up to you and can be determined based on when you get help.
Examples of a mantra: “I’m fierce. I know my body better than anyone.” “A doctor’s opinion does not define me.”
Example of self-soothing inner dialogue: “I have been in difficult situations before. I am safe and I have made other doctor appointments before. I’ll get through this.”
Last updated or revised on March 1, 2023