Waiting List: Six things to do in the waiting room to prepare for your doctor's visit

Neurology Now
September/October 2006
Volume 2(5)
p 44–45
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If you're reading this, you may be waiting to see your neurologist. And if you're staying around for tests to be approved or results to come back, or if there's been an unexpected emergency, you may be sitting there for a while. As a neurologist myself, I hate to keep you waiting, but there are times when it just can't be helped. So what can you do to make the most of your time? Here are six suggestions to make your delay a little less irritating and a lot more productive.

1. PRIORITIZE YOUR SYMPTOMS

If you're a new patient, doctors want to know the main reasons for your visit; and if you're a returning patient, we like to hear what's happened since your last appointment. It's always a good idea to select your top three problems and be ready to discuss them. You may have more, but start with the most severe. Neurologists want to know when symptoms began, how often they occur, what makes them worse, and what makes them better. We want to know the most frequent symptoms and the most severe ones. Listen to questions carefully. Although you may want to start at the beginning and tell your story in chronological order, we may ask for information in a way that helps us to arrive at a conclusion differently. If you're focused and stick to the point, we'll be better equipped to assess your complaints and arrive at the right diagnosis.

2. WRITE DOWN YOUR TOP FEW QUESTIONS

It's easy to get off track at the end of the visit-tests may need to be scheduled, new medications may need to be discussed, and, before you know it, your appointment is over. But when we start to wrap up, take a quick glance at your questions and make sure they've been covered. That will remind you what you needed answered and save you the headache of playing phone tag later. It's also the time to be sure you've understood what we've discussed. A good way to check is to repeat it back-it reassures us, and helps you avoid a potentially dangerous misunderstanding. Another way to make sure you hear everything your doctor has said is to bring in a relative or friend to get the information down and review questions.

3. LIST YOUR CURRENT MEDICATIONS

It may have been several months since your last visit. If, like most neurology patients, you're seeing other doctors, your medications may have changed or their dosages may have been adjusted. The new prescription from your internist may interact with one of your neurologist's treatments. If you haven't already made a list to keep in your wallet, now is the time to get started. I give this advice to all my patients. And one of them recently came back with a tip for me: an index card can be “laminated” for this purpose with extra-wide clear packing tape, making it waterproof and resistant to wear and tear. For computer users, there are programs to help you track your medications, and even a simple Word file can facilitate updating your records.

4. ASK OFFICE STAFF TO CHECK TEST RESULTS

If you've had tests done since your last visit-labs, X-rays, scans-ask a receptionist to check if they're in your chart. If not, there may be time to get the reports faxed to the office before your appointment starts. It will help your neurologist evaluate your condition and give you answers during the visit that would otherwise be deferred until a later date. The longer the lag time between the visit and the report, the less likely we are to remember the details of your care.

5. UPDATE OFFICE STAFF ON INSURANCE CHANGES

The front-office staff needs to have your most current insurance information in order to get pre-authorizations and referrals, and the back-office staff needs it to make sure billing is handled smoothly. Incorrect information can translate to a denial and delay requests for services or hold up your claims.

6. READ UP ON YOUR CONDITION

Learning about your disorder will help you better discuss treatment decisions with your doctor. Neurology practices are loaded with information usually vetted by your doctor. In addition to brochures and pamphlets from many of the patient organizations, we may have selected reprints of articles we've found particularly helpful or informative. While the Internet is a great resource for medical information, our offices provide the added perk of having screened for the best material available.

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