Write it down; it is as simple as that. As soon as you think of something you need to ask your physician, write it down. It has become a habit of mine to carry a little 3x5 inch (9x14cm) moleskin/bound notepad (my husband carries a spiral notepad). I stick a few of the 3M® page flags in the back, then, when something pops up; I write it down and flag it.
Whether you use your personal digital assistant (PDA) or pocket notepad, the key is to have something that will allow you to write down any questions or concerns you may want to address with your physician. What do you use to write it down?
With the fast pace of life and daily pressures, it is hard enough to remember what you had for breakfast let alone trying to remember what you were going to ask your physician three months from now.
As you jot down your health concerns, be sure to ask yourself the following questions and when you hear the answers, write it down:
Have you Previously experienced this concern/condition?
When was the Onset or first time you were aware of this concern/condition?
Can you Locate/pinpoint the source of your concern/condition?
What is the Duration; in other words, how long does this condition last? Does it stay with you throughout the day, or does it come and go throughout the day? Do you notice it only at night? Do you notice it only in the morning? (you get the picture!)
How would you Characterize it? If it is causing you pain, would you describe your concern/condition as sharp, dull, stabbing, radiating, aching, throbbing, pins and needles, numb, burning...?
Is there something that Aggravates it (walking up or down stairs, sitting, standing in one place, light exercise, cold weather, hot weather, hot/spicy foods, an empty stomach, eating late meals...)?
Is there anything that Relieves it? (Have you used any over-the-counter remedies that have provided you with relief? Did it get better with heat or ice? Does it go away after you eat or if you rest?)
Is there a Time of the day when you notice it the most (maybe you notice it late in the evening and early morning)?
How would you rate your level of distress (whether it is emotional or physical) on a Scale of 0-5. Think of it this way, if it bothers you enough to write it down in your notepad, it is probably a 2 on a scale of 0-5 (refer to pain scale on Definitions page).
I prefer using a scale of 0-5 but you could use another scale if you want. My humble opinion is the 0-5 scale clearly defines your level of distress.
As you can see, the 0-10 scale has too many "shades of gray" between the "0" and "2" or the "2" and "4" (you get the drift!) Whether you use the 0-5 scale or another scale, be sure to tell your physician what you are using to gauge your discomfort/distress.
Did you notice that I capitalized some of the letters in the questions above? The capitalized letters create the mnemonic POLDCARTS.
Using this same mnemonic that healthcare professionals use will help you to key into the questions your doctor will ask at the time of your visit. If you are not prepared with the answers at the time of the visit, you and your physician will have to engage in that painful, time-wasting game of twenty questions to extract your answers. In the end, you may spend your whole appointment playing twenty questions instead of finding a solution to your problem/concern.
If you are afraid you won't remember this mnemonic then write it down! In the front of your pocket note pad, you can write down the meaning of each letter. The more you use the mnemonic, the easier it will be to remember without having to refer to your "cheat sheet"!
When you think ahead and write it down, you save valuable time.
(Previous history) Have you ever experienced this before?
(Onset) When did you first notice this? When did it start?
(Location) Can you point to where it bothers you the most?
(Duration) How long does it last? (is it intermittent, constant ...)
(Characteristic) Can you descrie it? (sharp, dull, stabbing, pins and needles ...)
(Aggravates) What makes it worse?
(Relief) What makes it better?
(Time) When do you notice it? (in the morning/all day, just at night ...)
(Scale) On a scale of 0-5 how would you describe it?
I strongly recommend transferring your questions from your pocket-size notepad or PDA to a healthcare binder. Here, you can store your questions with your physician's response, in addition to any changes he/she may make to your medications or plans for your treatment.
While this is a great idea, I will be happy if you just remember to take notes during your appointment!!! Again, just write it down and make it part of your personal medical record!
Be sure to repeat what you believe your physician has said and ask him/her to explain anything that is not completely clear. Don't feel intimidated by your doctor. He/she is there to help you. Most physicians enjoy teaching and having patients who take an active role/interest in their health care.
Remember, you hired this physician to be part of your health care team. If you don't feel comfortable enough to ask for clarification to your questions, it might be time to interview new "candidates" for the position of "primary care physician"!