Preparing for a doctor’s appointment

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Is it your first time to visit a doctor in Canada? If you are anxious or nervous about consulting your physician, here are a few tips to help you get ready. Being prepared helps you make the most out of the appointment. It also saves time – both yours and your doctor’s.

How should you prepare?

If you are seeing a doctor because of a particular ailment, a good preparation is to make a journal listing down how often or how long you have been experiencing certain symptoms. For example:

July 8 – started having headaches Friday afternoon after working on the computer
July 9 – had headache in the evening coming home from work
July 10 – nauseated, had to stay home all day
July 11 – had a headache again after lunch

Having the complete details on hand will give the doctor a better idea of the problem. You can also list down medications you have taken to ease the pain or symptoms, as well as other changes you think may be important (e.g. change in appetite or sudden weight loss). Being specific and thorough will help your doctor provide an accurate diagnosis. This leads to the correct treatment that can get you better, faster.

If you are going for a routine check-up, you should have information on the following:

  • Family history of conditions and diseases (diseases your family members may have for example, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, etc.)
  • Previous surgeries and treatments for ailments or diseases
  • Allergies to food, medicine, and others
  • Screenings or vaccinations
  • Other medical records
  • Maintenance medicines or supplements; or therapies you are using
  • Your specific concerns or questions (e.g. body changes, lumps, trauma, stress, eating problems). Making a list of what to ask ensures that you won’t miss anything. However, don’t make your list too long!

If you need help writing these down in English, you can approach your nearest Immigrant Serving Organization or your Neighborhood Immigrant Settlement Worker (NISW). You can also register for English Online’s Drop-in Health Workshops to know what to expect, how to prepare, what to bring, and what common words and sentences to use during a visit. Check the Events Calendar for schedules.

Be ready with some answers

Part of your preparation would be ensuring that you have answers for the doctor. He/She will usually ask:

  • What brings you in today?
  • What hurts?
  • What are your symptoms? Or What do you feel?
  • How long has this been going on?
  • Has the pain been getting better or worse?
  • Do you smoke? Do you drink alcohol? How often?
  • Do you have a family history of this? (Does anybody else in your family have a similar ailment?)
  • Do you take medicines or supplements (vitamins)?
  • Are you sexually active?
  • Have you had previous surgeries?
  • Does it hurt when I push here? (the doctor will check various parts of your body)
  • Are you allergic to any medicines?

Come on time

Coming to the appointment early or on time reduces the stress you may already be feeling because of the check-up. Being on time also shows that you respect the doctor’s time, as well as the other patients’ who may have more pressing medical concerns than you.

If you do not feel confident about communicating in English or French, you can bring a friend or a family member with you. A patient advocate is “a person you choose to support you or act on your behalf. He or she will talk to members of your healthcare team, such as your family doctor or nurse” (Manitoba Institute for Patient Safety).

During the appointment, share your information

Don’t be ashamed to tell the doctor what you are experiencing. Chances are your doctor has heard it before. Withholding embarrassing symptoms is not a good idea. It can be an important factor in knowing what is wrong with your health.

The Manitoba Institute of Patient Safety’s (MIPS) “It’s safe to ask” program prescribes asking the following questions:

  • What is my health problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why do I need to do this?

Communicate It’s Safe to Ask (MIPS):

Always ask questions and take down notes

Note important terms, directions, or instructions from the doctor. Write them down so you don’t forget. You may have to refer to your notes if there are detailed instructions about taking medications or schedule of treatment.

Ask your doctor to explain if you didn’t understand. It’s okay to say “Please explain,” or “Please speak slowly, I didn’t understand what you said” if the doctor is speaking too fast or saying too many medical terms. You can also ask if they have interpreter services if you don’t have an advocate with you.

Don’t leave the doctor’s office until you are clear about what you need to do, or why you need to do a treatment or take certain medications.

Know when and how to follow-up

Before you leave, be sure to know if it is okay to call or email if you have questions. Ask for the appropriate contact numbers or email addresses. If the doctor says that you will need a follow-up check up, schedule this with his/her assistant while you are there.

Important reminders:

  • Always bring your Manitoba Health Card.
  • If you have supplementary health insurance, also bring your card (or any proof), just in case you need treatment outside of those provided by Manitoba Health.
  • Fill out the patient information form accurately and as completely as possible. Information that you put here are also considered by the doctor when formulating a diagnosis and prescribing medicines.
  • Know your rights and responsibilities as a patient.

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Community Resources

The Manitoba Institute for Patient Safety website has tips, information and resources on patient literacy and safety. It also has the “It’s Safe to Ask” program. This is an initiative to improve health literacy in Manitoba. You can access their S.A.F.E. Toolkit for other tips and information to help you become more involved with your healthcare.

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