Step 1: Craft your questions.
The first thing you’ll want to do is gather the topics you want to cover with your healthcare provider. I have a tendency to get tongue-tied and forget at least half the things I wanted to discuss when I’m sitting in the exam room. Maybe that happens to you, too? Or, all of a sudden, my issues do not seem as big of a deal as I originally thought, so I downplay symptoms. Sometimes I’ve even felt like I shouldn’t ask questions because they may seem obvious or frustrating. I don’t want to be a burden or a “bad” patient; someone who isn’t managing their disease appropriately. I now realize now that you don’t have to put on a brave face for your healthcare provider. Having concerns doesn’t make you a bad patient. It makes you informed.
Remember, it is silly to get nervous around healthcare providers. They are people too, and they are on your side! If you are embarrassed by something, I bet they have seen it before.
But what questions are appropriate for a healthcare provider? Maybe, if you’re like me, you want to discuss how your allergy has changed over time or learn more about potential therapies or food challenges. Your questions do not always have to be medical either, since a diagnosis like allergic disease is not only a medical condition but also an ailment that impacts your lifestyle. So asking about navigating life with food allergies is completely valid. You may want advice about safety around the school cafeteria or figuring out what precautions need to be taken around traveling with food allergies. This is also a place to start a discussion about mental health and quality of life. Your appointment is the time to get answers, and you should feel confident bringing up these types of questions to your healthcare provider.
Step 2: Record your relevant medical history.
In addition to your questions, write down your history and a timeline of your allergy symptoms. Bring any relevant photographs (e.g., images of rashes). The questions you have will be directly linked to events that have prompted you to make the appointment. Use those events as a jumping-off point. The more details you can relay, the better picture you can paint for your healthcare provider.
Need help writing down your history? Answer a series of questions to help track your symptoms and prepare for a visit with your healthcare provider.
Additionally, include a list of all the medications and supplements you take. Dr. Payel Gupta, my co-host for The Itch Podcast, tells all her patients to take pictures of their prescriptions and create an Rx album on their phones. Include the name and expiration date for each—and if you are taking vitamins or other supplements, make sure to include the ingredient list.
Step 3: Conduct your own research.
Another part of preparing for an appointment is doing research. I like to know what my options are for treatment and the technical terms that I may encounter. Knowing some basic information can speed the conversation with your doctor and will ultimately help you make more informed decisions.
It is important to note that not all sources are the same, in fact, far from it. Dr. Google can take you down uninformed and fear-mongering paths, so being mindful of the source is critical. Excellent places to start are organizations, associations, podcasts, or this List of Allergy Terms. In the case of anecdotal information, check to see whether the person has any bias or connections to companies or brands that could sway his or her opinion.
During the research phase, write down any questions that arise. No topic is off limits when it comes to your health, so ask about anything from potential treatments to symptoms and diagnosis. When you present this information to your healthcare provider, do so as a discussion, and remember that reading a handful of articles does not make you an expert.
To get the most out of your appointment, go in with an open mind and a collaborative spirit. If you have already diagnosed your issue and chartered a treatment plan, you are giving your doctor little room to do his or her job. Dr. Gupta suggests that it’s helpful to approach a conversation with your doctor with something like “I read this article, and it suggested this. What do you think?” She cautions against demands such as “Here is what I read, and here is what I want done.”
There is a balance between being informed and being too aggressive. Remember you are going to your healthcare providers for a reason, and that should be because you trust them! It’s important to find healthcare providers that you can have collaborative relationships with. At the end of the day, finding the right path for you stems from a fruitful conversations with your providers.
Step 4: Bring your test results.
If you already have testing completed, such as specific IgE blood tests and/or component testing, make sure to bring your results. Test results are not easy to interpret on your own, so if you have the opportunity to review them with your doctor, take it! If your healthcare provider has already told you that you are going to need a sIgE blood draw for monitoring changes in your already diagnosed allergy at your appointment, try calling your physician’s office prior to your appointment. Some providers will let you get the testing done beforehand so that you can discuss your results in person, alongside any other testing that they might conduct that day.
As you can tell, preparation plays an essential role in your appointment. But going in with an open mind and being ready to work with your healthcare provider is what will ultimately dictate the success of your visit
- Waiting at the doctor's office is common. Do not book anything directly after your appointment. Having a time buffer will help you stay calm and not enter the appointment stressed or irritated.
- Your doctor likely wishes he or she could give you more time too. If your healthcare provider interrupts you, don't take it personally, as most likely he or she has an idea and will ask probing questions. Healthcare providers do this day in and day out, and like a detective, they want to get to the core information as soon as possible because they know that time is of the essence.
- Your healthcare providers are on your team, and they want to help you. Be open, share what you have researched, and then listen.