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. Maybe that happens to you, too? Or, all of a sudden, my issues do not seem to be 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 nor someone who isn’t managing their disease appropriately. I now realize 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're people too, and they're on your side! If you are embarrassed by something, I bet you 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 to have to be medical either, since a diagnosis such as allergic disease isn't only a medical condition; it also 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 when 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.
Again, remember healthcare professionals want to help. Sharing your list of questions and concerns is a great way to break any tension and help you stay focused on what brought you into the office in the first place.
Step 2: Record your relevant medical history.
In addition to your questions, write down your history and a timeline of your allergy symptoms. Also bring any relevant photographs (such as those 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 for discussion. The more details you can relay, the better picture you can paint for your healthcare provider.
Need help writing down your history? Track your symptoms via our handy tool to 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 album on their phones. Include the names and expiration dates—and if you are taking vitamins or other supplements, 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 help 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 your informaitno search are organizations, associations, and podcasts. In the case of anecdotal information, check 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 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 an attitude similar to this: “I read this article, and it suggested this. What do you think?” Avoid an attitude of: “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 healthcare providers for a reason, and that should be because you trust them. It’s important to find a healthcare provider with which you can have a collaborative relationship. At the end of the day, finding the right path for you stems from a fruitful conversation with your provider.
Step 4: Bring your test results.
If you already have testing completed, such as specific IgE blood tests and/or component testing, 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 an sIgE blood draw for monitoring changes in your already diagnosed allergy at your appointment, try calling your provider's office prior to your appointment. Some will let you get the testing done beforehand so that you can discuss your results in person alongside any other testing conducted during your appointment.
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 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.
- Healthcare providers likely wish they could give you more time too. If they interrupt you, don't take it personally. Most likely they have an idea and will ask probing questions. They do this day in and day out, and like a detective, they want to get to the core information as quickly as possible because time is of the essence.
- Your healthcare provider is on your team and wants to help you. Be open, share what you have researched, and then listen.