How to Prepare for Your Next Doctor's Appointment

You read those scary headlines about the person who went in to replace their right knee and came out with a new left knee. Often, that's from simple lack of communication. Avoid medical mishaps and more with this patient-advocacy checklist.

By Heather Hansen
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Say it with us: You're your own best advocate

Going to the doctor shouldn’t be more dangerous than the illness that brought you there (obvs). But the most recent statistics on medical errors are, in fact, just plain scary. More than one in ten patients are harmed in the course of their medical care, and more than half of those injuries are preventable. More than one in ten patients are harmed in the course of their medical care, and more than half of those injuries are preventable. How to avoid needless trauma and plain old miscommunication? 

It starts with advocacy, which means standing up for yourself, your health, your opinions and your intuition. You’d do it for your clients, your friends and certainly for your kids. Here are 5 ways to do it for yourself. 

1. Research your doctor's history

Advocacy begins with preparation. Research your doctor and start with their job skills. We often look to reviews first, and while reviews can be helpful, they can also be misleading. We like doctors who are efficient, nice and charming, so they tend to get the good reviews. Focus instead on experience. Here are just some questions you should consider in your research:

  • Where did your doctor go to school and where did they train? 
  • Did they do a fellowship (advance training) in the type of medicine you're seeing them for?
  • Do they teach, write, or lecture on that area of medicine? 
  • You may also want to know how many similar procedures they’ve performed

2. Be prepared to interview your doctor

Advocates win by asking questions. Ask your doctor about his experience with your illness. Ask him about alternative treatments. Questions are your secret power. Studies show that doctors interrupt their patients within 11 seconds of beginning to explain the reason they are there. Unacceptable. So, a good question to start with is “Could you let me first explain everything that is concerning me?” 

3. Bring support to your doctor visit

When lawyers advocate for clients in the courtroom, they usually have a backup attorney to manage the evidence, take notes, and listen to the testimony. Four ears are better than two. When you go to an important doctor’s appointment or face a hospitalization, bring a family member or a close friend to serve as that back up. That person will ask questions you don’t remember or don’t have the guts to ask. If you can’t bring an extra advocate, bring a pen and paper and take copious notes. If you think that recording the visit would be helpful, ask your doctor if you can. (Another question!) In some states it’s illegal to record someone without their permission, and if your doctor says no, it is more evidence you can use to decide whether this is the doctor for you. 

4. Cultivate a strong doctor-patient relationship

Doctor’s appointments can be scary, confusing and painful. All of these things may make us less pleasant to be around than we normally are. But try not to let your fear turn to fury or aggression. Doctors are human too, and research shows that if you’re a “difficult” patient you’re at increased risk of being misdiagnosed. It isn’t because doctors want to hurt you, but because their reserves are decreased when they deal with a difficult patient. That means less smarts, creativity and focus to figure out what is wrong. 

5. Listen to your body

If that little voice inside of you is telling you to get a second opinion because the first seems like a path you might not want to go down, it’s advocating. Listen up — and trust that you know what’s right for you. 

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