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Getting the Best Out of Medical Consultations

consultation with doctor

Have you ever come away from a visit to your doctor or the specialist and thought, 'Why didn't I ask him about ...?' or 'Why didn't I ask her what she meant when she said ...?' Many people come away from medical consultations feeling dissatisfied and frustrated - they feel unheard, and that their needs and feelings have not been taken into account.

There are some tips below to help you remain calm and to give you confidence to gain a successful outcome.

Further below, at No.8, there are also details of some free 'Pain Logs' for you to complete.

  1. Before you go to your consultation it's worth making the time and effort to compile a short list containing the following information:

    • What you hope to gain from the meeting.
    • Your main reason for seeing the doctor.
    • Any new symptoms.
    • Any medication you have been prescribed, and its effect on you.

  2. It's useful to be able to describe accurately the pain and how it affects you.

    Take these points into consideration:

    • What does the pain stop you from doing? (e.g. working, sleeping, socialising, etc.)
    • What makes the pain better/worse?
    • Is the pain different from before?
    • What you have done to try to relieve the pain?
    • Any complementary or alternative therapies you have tried.
    • What is your biggest worry about the pain?
  3. Remember - the pain is what you say it is. It is YOUR pain and you know how it interferes with the quality of your life.

  4. Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself - no-one knows what you want unless you tell them. If you think a certain treatment may be helpful - ask for it. The answer may not be positive but at least you won't come away from the consultation regretting not having spoken up. You will know where you stand.
  5. Doctors may sometimes use medical jargon that you may not understand. If you don't understand, say so, and keep asking the doctor to explain until you are sure you understand fully and feel you have all the information available.
  6. If you are prescribed a drug or a course of treatments your doctor should tell you all about it, how a drug works and possible side-effects. Feel at liberty to ask what the alternatives are, and/or if there's anything you can do to help yourself.
  7. If you have difficulty in saying what you want, it is a good idea to practice beforehand, either out aloud by yourself, or together with a friend.
  8. It is also useful to be able to describe how much pain you have at any time.

    To give it a number on a scale is far more understandable to your doctor than to say the pain is 'unbearable' or 'awful'.

    Make a note of pain levels after activities that either increase/decrease the pain or to measure how much worse/better the pain is now compared to the last time you saw the doctor.

    Use the scale below to measure your pain.

  9. Pain Scale 
    0 - 10
      How the Pain Affects You
      No pain
    1 - 3
      Mild Pain - aware only if thinking about it.
    4 - 5
      Moderate Pain - can be ignored at times.
    6 - 7
      Fairly Severe Pain - painful but can continue tasks.
    8 - 9
      Very Severe Pain - concentration difficult, can only do undemanding tasks.
      The Worst I can Imagine - incapacitating pain, can do almost nothing.

  10. Pain Logs Print as many copies as you need of each log. It's helpful to complete each record for about a week. The pain log might be just for your own personal interest or perhaps to show to your doctor/therapist/family/friends to help them understand how your pain affects you personally and how it affects your daily life.

    The Pain Levels log below will be a record of your actual pain level. Print as many copies as you need.
    Pain Levels Log Download PDF

    The Pain, Feelings and Activity log below will help you to discover how your activities and feelings may affect your pain. Print as many copies as you need.
    Pain/Feelings/Activity Download PDF

  11. If an operation is suggested, there are various questions that need answers beforeyou agree to surgery. You could ask your Surgeon/Consultant questions such as:

    • What is the success rate?
    • Are there any complications that can be expected?
    • Will you do the operation yourself?
    • How many of these operations have you done in the last 12 months?
    • How long will I have to wait?
    • How long will my recovery period be?
    • Will my condition deteriorate again after the operation?
    • What alternative treatments are available?

    Remember, you are entitled to ask these questions, and any others you may think of, before you agree to an operation. You need these facts in order to make an informed judgement as to whether to go ahead or not. You are also entitled to a second opinion if you are not comfortable with the advice given.

  12. When you go the doctor, take your notes with you to remind you what you want to ask.

    It may help to take someone with you to give you support whilst you are waiting for your appointment and/or to accompany you during the consultation. After the visit, the other person will help you to remember what the doctor said.

  13. Finally, if you think it might be necessary for you to have an actual examination, it would be a good idea to wear clothes that are easily removed.

Seek extra advice and support from our Discussion Forum.

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