“Hello. My name is Eugene but you can call me Gene,” he said with a smile. “Hi, Shelley.”
“Hi, Gene,” I replied. It took me a second. “Hygiene, ah, funny,” I said. He chuckled. It broke the ice.
I made the appointment two months earlier after cycling through two other primary care physicians who moved away. I dreaded this appointment.
Weighing What to Tell
When you have a lengthy medical history with a treatment plan that changes more often than a toddler changes their mind, it’s incredibly difficult to decide how much to share with a new doctor. I weighed my options.
Do I tell the doctor that my history is all in my chart? “As you can see in my chart, I’ve gone through many treatments.”
- Pro: The burden is lifted from you having to share everything and it saves time.
- Con: The doctor will probably not have time to read up on your file in the moment. Important aspects of your treatment and tests results could be missed.
Do I share a brief synopsis of my medical history, leaving out some details? “I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2012. I’ve been on seven biologics or biosimilars and I’m about to start my eighth one. I had some tests done with a neurologist….I have an ongoing weird rash and a slew of other symptoms.”
- Pro: Sharing the gist of your history takes less time and can be less stressful for you to prepare ahead of the appointment.
- Con: Leaving out critical details of your treatment changes could lead to misunderstandings or lack of understanding, resulting in poor decision-making.
Do I share it all? Word vomit.
- Pro: It’s a relief to share it all and know that you’ve told your doctor everything. By sharing your history aloud with your doctor, they may hear something that generates an idea to better manage your condition.
- Con: It’s a lot to take in. It may be too much for one appointment, especially the first one. Depending on the details of your history, sharing your entire health history may take up most of the appointment.
A few days prior to the appointment, I resided on option 2, giving a 90-second rundown with the most pivotal moments that led to the treatment I am on today. I wasn’t totally sold on this option, but I didn’t want to overwhelm my potential new doctor.
An Unexpected Surprise
But wait! To my surprise, my doctor presented a new option. “What is happening? I’m not prepared for this,” I thought to myself.
He walked through the door prepared for my appointment. He had read my file. All of it.
After our initial greeting, Gene said “So, I read your entire medical record, including the notes from the other doctors, your most recent labs, and MRI results, and I looked at the history of some of the lab results that were out of normal range. I know you might be wondering about how much to share with me at this initial visit, so I just want you to know that I’m up to speed. How are you feeling today?”
I couldn’t help but feel a huge sense of relief, and slight pressure behind my eyes as they began to well up with gratitude. Because he familiarized himself with my medical history and recent notes from my specialists, our appointment focused on where to take my care forward. When I voiced my concerns about the trends in my lymphocytes and neutrophils (types of white blood cells), he promptly pulled his computer closer, allowing me to see the results and discuss them together. He spent no less than 30 minutes with me, answering each one of my questions before he left.
Is This the Standard of Care?
I couldn’t help but wonder if others experience this level of professionalism, preparedness, and empathy from their primary care physician. This was a first for me, and I’ve had at least five primary care doctors in my adult life. At each appointment I was trapped in a time loop, much like Phil from the movie Groundhog Day. Every appointment seemed to start from the beginning of my medical history. Every single time. For a person living with chronic conditions and a long list of past and present medications, this repetitive cycle was frustrating and exhausting.
We have responsibilities as patients to:
- Ask questions.
- Be prepared to advocate for ourselves.
- Let our medical team know what symptoms we experience.
- Follow the treatment plan we decide on with our doctors.
In order to make our appointments successful, doctors also have responsibilities to:
- Read our patient chart and questionnaire completed at check-in.
- Schedule appointments so there is adequate time for patient visits.
- Listen to the patient.
- Ask patients how they feel and how they’ve felt over the past weeks and months.
- Ask patients if they have any questions and taking the time to answer those questions.
Tips for Preparing for an Appointment with a New Doctor
Here are some things you can do to prepare for a successful appointment with a new doctor:
- Bring a list of current medications, including the dose and frequency of medications.
- Review your own medical chart before the appointment so you can communicate your medical history and the medications you took or are currently taking. Ask your doctor if they prefer to have you share your entire medical history or just your current medication list.
- Make a list of questions for the doctor. Start your list weeks in advance and add to it as the appointment approaches. Creating a last-minute list can lead to leaving out critical questions you may forget to ask during the appointment.
- Bring information about your latest symptoms, including any data you’ve tracked if you have that information. I use PatientSpot to track my flares, pain level, sleep quality, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and more.
- Check your expectations. Keep them high. You deserve high-quality care.
Be a More Proactive Patient with PatientSpot
PatientSpot (formerly ArthritisPower) is a patient-led, patient-centered research registry for people living with chronic conditions. You can participate in voluntary research studies about your health conditions and use the app to track your symptoms, disease activity, and medications — and share with your doctor. Learn more and sign up here.