Until I had an allergy child, I didn’t realize the skill and planning required to have a successful and worthwhile visit to the doctor’s office. It takes time to learn the skills and understand what you need to plan before each appointment!
I know, it was a surprise to me too!
My health has always been good … no major, chronic issues that affect my day to day life. I am very grateful for my good health, but my experience of yearly well visits or sick trips to address an ear infection or the flu left me utterly unprepared. The experience of working with doctors to diagnose and control a chronic health issue requires more than just showing up.
Shaun, at about 3 months old, after 4 weeks of no improvement with angry eczema covering his skin (check it out here), was referred by our pediatrician to a pediatric dermatologist and then to an allergist. And at this point, I realized I was in over my head.
3 different doctors, in 3 various offices all trying to help my little child. And although I was grateful for the team of experts we were assembling, everything felt repetitive and disjointed.
I would show up to appointments with Shaun, ready for the doctor to come up with a plan to help us, but I was unprepared. I couldn’t remember (or pronounce) the name of the medications we were trying. I forgot what test the allergist recommended when I met with the dermatologist just a few short days later. I did my best but got distracted by my infant’s needs and, at times, fussiness causing me to miss important information. Each appointment I left with a new “plan of action” for Shaun’s care.
My head was spinning, and my heart was aching. I wanted my son to be healthy! I wanted to be able to help him.
I realized I needed a more practical approach. To better advocate for my son.
I needed to become a resource to the doctors providing them with the information, treatment plans, and tests the other doctors were trying.
Step 1; and I know this sounds silly, but this is experience talking, double check all your appointment information with the office staff!
- Write everything down or get a print out with the appointment information. This will help you remember the details, and you can refer to it if there is a conflict when you arrive at the doctors’ office.
- Keep a record of who gave you the information. Taking down the name of who you spoke with will help if you need to talk to them again to adjust or confirm something.
Because you will be working with the office staff a reasonable amount, especially in the beginning, it will also help you learn who is who. In some cases, all the office staff is excellent to work with, and this isn’t as necessary, but in other situations, you want to know who to ask for when you need to get something accomplished!
Verify all aspects of the appointment: date and time, the doctor you will see, the office location (many allergists are spread across multiple offices depending on the day of the week if they’re doing food challenges that day, etc.) and the nature of the appointment.
There is nothing more infuriating and devastating than showing up to your doctor’s office, carrying an infant with bleeding skin, in the dead of winter, desperate for help only to be told by the receptionist that you showed up on the wrong day! (At one office this happened to me several times)
In those moments, my tired, momma heart fell flat! However, learning to keep this information organized gave me an advantage and the confidence to speak up to the office staff and explain that I was in the right place at the right time and that someone would see Shaun before I left the office.
These days, now that we have a better handle on Shaun’s overall condition, I do not feel quite as desperate, but I still maintain this practice. Time is a valuable commodity that I never seem to have enough of and making this small investment to be sure to verify and keep a record of this information will only benefit me.
Step 2; show up to the appointment prepared.
Google Docs became my best friend! (not an ad, just really useful) I started keeping a record of all interactions concerning Shaun’s health condition and storing it on Google made it accessible on any computer or device. This made it easy to update several times a day if needed.
Although I kept everything digitally, I also kept a physical binder. The binder came with me EVERYWHERE because you never know when the doctor is going to return your phone call. I have pulled to the side of the road many times to answer a call from Shaun’s doctor and check the numbers on the blood work results in “the binder.”
Have your current care plan on hand!
I began to notice that at the beginning of each appointment, we would be asked the same questions. So I walked into the exam room with a printed copy of my Google document, and I would give it to the doctor or staff.
Some of the things I had included on the page were:
- Name and date of birth
- Current height and weight
- All current medications (including strength, dose, and frequency)
- Known allergens
- Any other conditions that would need to be considered (in our case eczema and eventually asthma)
Often the doctor or staff would copy the form and put it in their file. This saved us precious minutes with the doctor.
- Bring written questions. Yes, have them written down, as many as you can think of. Understanding food allergies is essential to staying safe. One of the best ways to learn is by asking questions. I promise if you don’t write them down before the appointment, you will forget them!
- If the appointment is for a child, have books, toys and, if possible, a second adult. It can be hard to keep your child calm an occupied while trying to discuss and understand relevant information that is new to you. Having distractions and extra help will allow you to stay more engaged with the conversation.
Step 3; take notes and keep copies! Write important things down during the appointment and ask for copies of care plans and test results.
- Any change(s) to the care plan
- Answers to your questions
- Prep requirements for future testing
- Red flag symptoms and what response you should take
- Medication adjustments
I took notes with a pen during the appointment and transferred it to my digital copy when I got home. (Not the most elegant, but it worked through the chaos)
Yes, all this took a tremendous amount of time!
But it helped to make the most of our time with Shaun’s doctors. We became efficient and effective! The doctors appreciated the preparation. And honestly, skills and planning allowed Shaun’s care team to get his eczema under control and food allergies diagnosed as quickly as possible.
I am grateful to have learned the benefits of this kind of preparation before a doctors appointment! It is an important life skill to have. And maybe some of my tricks will leave you a few steps ahead during your next doctor’s visit.
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