How to be a Successful Professional Patient

If you’re like me, a “professional patient,” you spend a lot of time going to the doctor’s office and you might even frequently see new doctors. These are my tips, all learned the hard way, from experience.
How to be a Successful Professional Patient: Tips for a good doctor's visit for the chronically ill #chronicillness


I always dread upcoming appointments because that means being weighed, measured, updating symptoms, updating medications, and so much talking that it can be exhausting. Especially if your doctor only has a few minutes to talk (or gives you 45 seconds to talk, max), you need to make the most of the time you have there without hurting or stressing yourself out.

What’s even worse for me, personally, is seeing a brand new doctor. I can’t get my entire medical history out during one of those “long” appointments that they give you at the beginning. However, most doctors find my medical history fascinating, in a “wow, I’ve never met anyone as messed up as you,” or “I could definitely write a paper about you,” (true story), kind of way, so they run long. That’s not good for me because, like I’ll discuss below, if I haven’t prepared properly, I end up leaving frustrated, misunderstood, and without the help I need.

For Regular Check Ups

  • Budget time to prepare for your appointment. Make a super comprehensive list of things that have to be done before you walk out of the door, even if it is a mental list, plus how much time it’ll take. Then add 10 minutes or more to that. Set alarms as needed. Also, make sure you have gas! Running late because you had to stop for gas is not fun.
    I always need to let the dogs out, find my keys, brush my teeth, grab paperwork, etc. Then I remember things like, “oh, the dogs need more food!” If I budget my time before the appointment, I’m not adding any extra stress to the appointment.
  • Always keep a current list of medications printed out.
    This has helped me out in more ways than one. Once, during a kitchen accident, I knew that I was going to need to get stitches. Since the cut was on my right hand, I knew that I wouldn’t be filling much paperwork out, plus I was in pain and had already popped some pain pills. My husband drove me, but for me to list out all of my medications (including spellings) and doses for him, would have been nearly impossible.
    Now, it’s so much easier to hand the nurse a list that he or she can keep.
  • The list includes:

Medication name
Dose/or if used as needed
Purpose of medication
Prescribing doctor
Doctor’s phone number
Doctor’s specialty–I recently added this because some doctors get confused about which doctor is my neurologist, pain specialist, etc.

  • I keep this list on my Google Drive, so if I have an emergency or don’t have a print out, I can pull it up on my phone.
  • I also keep a list of recently discontinued medications and why (a doctor changed the medicine, bad side effects, ineffective, allergic reaction). This lets the doctor know that you can’t take Topomax, even though this doctor might ask you if you’ve tried it before, three times during a single appointment. “Yes, I already said that you prescribed it last summer, but I got confused and cried at work, so you had me discontinue it…”
  • Have a goal. Unless you are newly sick or have very strange new symptoms, have a goal for the appointment. Do you want to let the doctor know about side effects of a medicine? Do you need the doctor to fill out a form? Do you have a question about a new type of therapy–trying physical therapy, biofeedback, or something that the doctor hasn’t discussed yet? Do you need a refill? Know your objective before you walk in the door.
  • Write out talking points. Since you may not get to say everything that you want to say, have your list ready. Have your most important point at the top. Make sure to touch on that goal very first thing. Then, any other questions that you have or symptoms that you want to mention, make sure you have it written down.

+Sometimes I get intimidated, flustered, or just fatigued at an appointment. This list makes sure that I don’t forget to ask if I need to take a certain supplement every day, or if I could lower it because it is hurting my stomach.
+My notes also include a short narrative about my health since my last visit. Even though my pain doctor isn’t giving me botox for my dystonia, like my neurologist does, it is good to let her know if I’ve recently had shots, if my neck has been stuck to the right, or if I’ve had bad headaches. I keep all of the doctors “in the loop,” since they don’t ever talk to each other. Don’t get me started…

New Doctor Appointment:

I hate these. Seriously. They’re so painful. I always go in with a lot of hope, but come out with no hope. A lot of doctors seem to over promise, but when I get there, they realize that I’m complex. Then, I’ve just exhausted myself by going over my history, even if I have had records sent over. I have had so many one-time-only visits that leave me bedridden for a few days when I am recovering from it because I didn’t follow my own tips.

  • Arrive early. It can be hard to find the building and parking, especially if you are very familiar with the area. If it is in any type of medical complex, it can be hard to find where to park and the best place to access the entrance, plus then you have to get to the office. Most places want you there early to fill out additional paperwork, too. You can avoid extra stress by leaving yourself time to find the office.
  • Make a timeline. Visuals are helpful, but just a list with bullets, by year, can make the appointment go more quickly. The doctor can look it over and ask clarifying questions, instead of you having to reach back into the far parts of your memory.
  • Bring your medication lists and any recent bloodwork or test results that you have. This will prevent the doctor from needing to rerun any tests, especially if your insurance may not cover the test because you just had it done. Also, it gives the doctor a better picture of your health.

I am not perfect at doing all of this all of the time. They are tips that I’ve learned the hard way–through error. So, I hope that my mistakes help you have better doctor appointments, especially if you feel like you live in waiting rooms.

Do you have any tips for me? How do you deal with a ton of appointments? I’m SO open to suggestions!

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Categories: Chronic Illness | Tags: , |
  • This is such an excellent list. If only more individuals took ownership of their personal health and those appointments. I truly can’t stress enough making enough time to fill out paperwork for a new doctor. I keep my appointments on time and when someone takes 15 minutes to complete their paperwork (and got there at the actual time), they are cutting into their time. Also, I’ve been in your situation and had many doctors say they same thing about my own health. “I’ve never seen that before.” “That’s unique”. I’ve learned to accept it.

  • Sarah

    I do so much of the same thing. On my med list I’ve also added food allergies & diet. I also keep a word doc of my surgeries with a description of each as well as all of my diagnosis(es) with definitions at the top. That way I don’t always have always have to tell people what CP is or what tendon they moved where. However they did not read any of this while I was in the process of attempting to pass a kidney stone in the ER. I almost ripped the intake person’s head off (not kidding). I just kept screaming “Read the paperwork!!!!” I also use to photocopy my insurance info (front & back of card) prior to appointments so nothing got put in the computer wrong, but now that they have those tiny scanner things I don’t do that as much. Also I try to get in touch with a Drs assistant if at all possible to try and grease the wheels since they handle most of the record keeping anyway

    • Ugh emergencies are the worst when you have conditions that need special attention. My parents couldn’t get to the hospital in time when I had to have my appendix out and my husband doesn’t know as much about my sensitivities as they do (I’ve been sick much longer than I’ve known him), so basically, I was doped up on morphine and yelling at the anesthesiologist about not wanting anti-nausea drugs while my husband was trying to relay text messages to the anesthesiologist about why I couldn’t have them. It was chaos. I won AND didn’t get nauseous.
      Adding food allergies is also a good idea! I don’t have any, but my list of known bad drug reactions or medications that could make the dystonia worse is about as long as my arm!

  • I actually did have a paper written about me. True story. Apparently it’s in a physical therapy journal or something! Thankfully the physical therapist was actually able to help me fix that problem over time, unlike some of my current ailments.

    As a pharmacist, I can’t tell you how helpful it is for patients to bring in a typed and current list of their medications! For “as needed” medications it’s also very helpful to note how often you actually take the medication in addition to the way it’s prescribed (ex: if the instruction are use every 8 hours as needed, but you only need to use it every 12 hours, that’s good for us to know!). But yeah – I totally hear you about physicians not communicating with each other. I’ve seen that more times than I can count as a patient and as a pharmacist. It’s just scary.