Going to the doctor? Be prepared!

By Peter Holstein
Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
May 11, 2017

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Have you ever left the doctor’s office feeling frustrated or confused? Have you ever forgotten some of what they told you? Doing a little bit of preparation before your appointment can make sure you get the most out of seeing a medical provider.

The Air Force Medical Service is committed to developing a patient centered culture that values input and feedback from the people we treat.

We are living in a time when health information is more accessible than ever before, and valuable resources are available right on your phone. Patients should take advantage of that information and educate themselves before they go to the doctor, so that the conversation with their provider is a dialogue, not a one-way street.

 “As a physician, you can tell when a patient is prepared,” said Col. (Dr.) John Oh, chief of preventive medicine for the Air Force Medical Support Agency. “Patients who are prepared and have thought through what they want to get out of the visit ask better questions and are more likely to have their needs addressed.”

It can be helpful for patients to create an agenda before an appointment. This can be as simple as just writing down a list of issues to want to address with the doctor. Start by reviewing any notes you may have taken at a previous visit, especially if you have access to the new MHS Genesis Patient Portal (currently only available at Fairchild Air Force Base), which allows patients to review the clinical notes from previous visits.

Having written notes can make it much easier for some patients to interact with their doctor. Especially since medical advice can be complicated, or include lots of hard to understand jargon, don’t be afraid to ask the provider to repeat themselves or explain something that doesn’t make sense.

“A lot times, when they are in a clinical setting, people can be nervous or have a lot on their mind,” said Oh. “It can be intimidating, so write stuff down ahead of time, or bring a family member to give support. As a patient, it’s important for you to speak up, so that your health provider understands your preferences, needs and values.”

Another valuable resource for patients is the AFMS Patient and Family Engagement Toolkit. It has more tips for how patients can talk with their doctor and get the most out of their visit to any health provider.

The AFMS also recently released a mobile app for Google and Apple smart phones with an extensive list of questions you might want to ask your doctor. The Apple version of the app lets you build your own custom list as well. You can download the AFMS app by search for “AFMS” in the Google Play or iTunes store, as well as visiting our mobile apps site, http://www.airforcemedicine.af.mil/Healthy-Living/Mobile-Apps/.

Remember, while your provider may be a medical expert, no one knows better than you or how you’re feeling. Speak up, ask questions, and become an engaged partner in your health care.