Some doctor’s visits are no sweat, like yearly physicals. Others, like a trip to the gyno, are full sweat. Talking about personal health concerns makes a lot of people nervous, even when the issue is totally commonplace. For example, some people find it difficult to discuss their mental health. Others may be comfortable with those conversations, but are anxious about discussions surrounding STIs and sexual health.
The stigma around many health topics is real, but the truth is that many of these health issues are common. Even if you know this, advocating for yourself at the doctor’s office can still be stressful. The examination room itself can make people feel vulnerable. No matter how uncomfortable you are though, you need to talk about your health concerns with your doctor.
So what can you do before, during, and after your appointment to ensure that you’re dealing with those nerve-wracking concerns? Prepare for the visit, and keep a few tips in mind while you’re there. A solid plan of action can help you make it through any appointment.
In reality, you have options for care, and you have a lot of power once you’re in the room. Here are five ways to empower yourself while addressing your health concerns with a doctor.
1. Decide Between a Traditional Appointment or Virtual Care
In today’s world, seeing a doctor in person isn’t the only option. Online urgent care, texting counselors, and virtual GP appointments are now all on the table. This is great because it gives you more options, and it makes seeking care more convenient.
Nothing, not even a busy life, should prevent you from getting the care you need. However, it’s possible that the appointment and the commute just don’t fit into your schedule. Whether it’s that or the doctor’s office makes you nervous, online appointments might be the right choice for you.
You may even be surprised by how much you can get taken care of online. Running out of birth control? You can hop on the computer and get a prescription after a brief consultation with a medical professional. Even some urgent care centers now do online appointments.
There’s also a range of tests you can do in the privacy of your own bathroom. For example, there are STI testing kits that you can use at home. If it turns out that you have an infection, you can even have treatments for conditions like genital herpes sent right to your door. According to Nurx, taking a daily dose of valacyclovir helps prevent herpes and makes it less likely that you can pass it along.
Ultimately, you’ll need to see a doctor in person for some types of care. But there’s a lot you can get done without ever stepping foot in a doctor’s office.
2. Do Your Research
Before you go to your appointment — in person or virtually — you should consider doing some research. While speculating wildly about symptoms doesn’t help, a basic understanding of illnesses and the body can go a long way.
Some lingo that doctors use with patients may not be completely self-explanatory. So a bit of research can help you better understand your doctor. For example, say for the first time in your life you feel like your heart is skipping a beat. You may not know that doctors and patients call that a “palpitation.” A bit of research on common symptoms or medical problems might help you clarify your health concerns at your appointment.
Research can lead to another great result: finding support groups. From mental health to life-threatening illnesses, there are groups online that are there to help. You can discuss shared experiences with others. You can find group therapy sessions to support you. Finding and developing community can be a great comfort and help you develop confidence.
Be wary, however, when scouring the internet for answers to your problems. Watch out for scammers or for sources that just aren’t credible. If someone advises you to change your diet or behavior, talk to your doctor before taking that advice.
3. Write Down Your Concerns
Sometimes being nervous can send your mental list of health concerns right out the window. Or anxiety might make it difficult to speak at all. If these things happen to you, consider writing down the health issues you want to discuss.
Writing a list of concerns can also alleviate some of your stress as you head into the doctor’s office. You won’t have to worry about forgetting something important because your list can help organize your thoughts.
If you find this useful, consider taking this writing habit one step further. Sometimes symptoms are impacted by habits or different activities. For example, some people may experience migraines more frequently when they’ve been eating chocolate.
Keep track of the time, date, and duration of your symptoms. Then add an entry about what you were doing at the time. Take your notebook to the doctor so that they can rule out common causes of certain health problems.
The time you spend with your doctor is brief, so having a plan of what to talk about is important. You don’t want to get halfway home from your appointment only to remember a crucial issue you wanted to discuss. So get your list ready. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
4. Be Honest
Those intake forms at the doctor’s office get personal. They may even feel too personal. You might be tempted to lie about your lifestyle and habits on those forms. Or you might want to skip a discussion about some of your concerns altogether.
However, you’re not doing yourself any favors by omitting information or lying. It’s crucial to be as honest as possible at a doctor’s appointment. Your doctor can’t treat you properly if they don’t have all the pertinent information. And they may find things pertinent that you think are completely unrelated. Trust in their education — and doctor-patient confidentiality laws.
While feeling judged by doctors is normal, remember that you’re not in a high school health class. Your physician doesn’t want a “correct” answer, and the appointment definitely isn’t a test. Remember that they ask you certain questions for health-related reasons. They can’t get an accurate picture of your health, or develop the best treatment, if you’re not honest.
5. Be an Active Participant
All right, so you’ve prepared for your appointment, and you’re ready to answer all questions honestly. Good work! Now it’s time to be an active participant in the discussion with your doctor.
Due to the fast-paced nature of doctor visits, the information you get may seem overwhelming or be confusing. If your doctor says something you don’t understand, slow down the conversation.
Ask clarifying questions. Have them define new terms for you. Understanding your health issues better will help you follow their treatment plan. If you’re undergoing a procedure or test, ask them to explain the steps. Knowing what to expect in the examination room can lessen your overall stress.
If you don’t click with your doctor, it may be time to go elsewhere. Despite their education and authority, doctors aren’t always right. They’re human, which means they make mistakes. You don’t have to stick with a doctor who makes you uncomfortable or doesn’t take your concerns seriously. Shop around until you find a doctor that makes you feel respected and heard.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic button that makes taking care of your health easy. However, there are things you can do to better address your health concerns with your doctor. Remember that it’s your body and your life at stake, so you have the final say.