This piece was originally published in the Military Spouse Magazine in January of 2014. For details on how you can subscribe to the magazine for more great content, please click here.
Five Honest Conversations You Should Have With Your Doctor
(And five ways for your doctor to hear you)
LET’S BE HONEST
There are myriad reasons to explain why we skip the doctor’s office: We’re too busy. It’s too difficult to find someone to watch the kids. We don’t like going to the doctor. Or perhaps the biggest one of all – we’re afraid something is wrong and we just don’t want to find out.
Many of us attribute physical pain to the stress of everyday life. “I’m fatigued because I’m up all night with the kids,” we tell ourselves. Or “my shoulder hurts because that’s where I tend to favor carrying heavy objects.”
But pains may indicate a more serious medical issue. “Don’t ignore that nagging voice from your gut,” says Navy spouse Melissa Gagnet. “If something looks, sounds or feels peculiar, nine times out of 10 – you’re right.”
But once you make that appointment, how can you be sure you’re going to get the best possible care? We consulted with medical professionals and military spouses to explore the most honest conversations you should have with your doctor for a satisfying, successful visit.
HONEST CONVERSATION #1
Some doctors are hesitant to bring up weight issues unless a patient is severely obese and it is immediately threatening their health. That doesn’t mean you should ignore asking about your weight. A 2010 report in TRICARE Provider News noted that, “obesity is a major health issue in the United States – excess weight is associated with many common diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and some types of cancers.” Your doctor may be able to provide you with everything from helpful solutions to tailored medication.
HONEST CONVERSATION #2
Be totally thorough and direct in disclosing all of your symptoms, even if they seem insignificant, unrelated or even awkward. Marine Corps spouse Katrina Robinson has been navigating TRICARE Prime for the past 13 years. She suggests documenting any symptoms you notice. “Mark it on your calendar adn it automatically gives your concerns credibility in the doctor’s eyes,” she says. “If you aren’t concerned enough to have that information, the doctor may chalk it up to a temporary rather than ongoing concern and you could leave the appointment with the advice ‘If it doesn’t improve in a month, come back in.'”
HONEST CONVERSATION #3
This is, perhaps, the most HONEST conversation you should have with your doctor. Medical professionals agree that combining medications without a doctor’s approval can be extremely dangerous and may have unitended side effects. Mention all over-the-counter drugs and supplements, so your doctor gets a clear picture.
HONEST CONVERSATION #4
Always disclose medical conditions – past and present – to your provider. Ever been diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure, for example? It’s imperitive to share that, so that your doctor can incorporate that into their medical analysis.
HONEST CONVERSATION #5
Disclose any past surgeries and whether you’ve had complications from previous surgeries. This will help the provider eliminate any unnecessary tests or highlight needed exams.
5 Steps to Helping Your Doctor Hear You
At a medical appointment, you shouldn’t feel rushed or unacknowleged, especially when medical issues are concerned. The following suggestions, based on doctor and patient contributions, will help you feel heard. Whether you have TRICARE Standard or Prime, these steps can help you find the right doctor and work together well.
1) Start by finding the right doctor.
Make a list of the criteria important to you in a doctor, including their listening skills. Refer to this list as you search TRICARE’s online resource. “TRICARE refers to doctors as ‘providers,’ which includes any doctor, team of doctors, nurse practitioner, hospital or clinic. The different types of providers beneficiaries may see depend on their plan and where they live. To find a provider, TRICARE beneficiaries can go to www.tricare.mil/findaprovider, says Kevin Dwyer, deputy chief of the Benefit Information and Outreach branch of the Defense Health Agency. Also, ask around, says Air Force spouse Amber Myers. “Most people will have a good doctor they use,” so ask friends who they use and why they are happy with that chocie.
2) Speak up.
Dr. Christina Dolack says the best use of your and your provider’s time is to be direct with your concerns. “Occasionally I will have a patient in the office with one concern and as I’m walking out the door to seek treatment for that issue, they say, ‘By the way, this is what I’m also concerned about.’ And that is the real reason they are in my office.” The more upfront you are at the get-go, the more time you and your doctor will have to discuss and come up with a plan of action.
3) Bring a concise, written list of questions and concerns.
You can easily forget to mention things if you don’t. On the list, rank questions/concerns in order of importance. This will help both you and your medical provider isolate the most pressing issues. And remember, “No question is too silly and the more assertive you are, the more you will learn about yourself.” says Navy spouse Melissa Gagnet.
4) Find the right time.
Dr. Dolack recommends scheduling an appointment with more than just your busy schedule in mind. “It is best not to walk in 15 minutes before closing with a long list of concerns. Both you and your doctor will feel rushed.” When scheduling, ask what blocks of time are usually least busy. Then choose an appointment within that time frame.
A favorite piece of advice comes from Amber Myers: “I always wear clean underwear to the doctor, just in case. If I’m going down, at least I have some awesome drawers on.”