Making the most of your appointments

That crucial hospital appointment has been scribbled on your calendar for months, and in your mind you've asked a thousand questions. So what can you do to make sure you're not too nervous or bamboozled by the experience and get the most out of your appointment? Being prepared will put you in good stead to both gather and give as much information as possible.

Here are our top tips for getting the most out of your appointment:

  • Be prepared

Whether you're going to meet your doctor for the first time or you've seen your doctor on many occasions previously, it's good to be prepared.

Take time to make notes so that you have important information to hand without having to wrack your brains.

This will help to remove some anxiety, bearing in mind that getting to hospital involves dealing with so many other things, such as potential transport difficulties.

If you haven't had time to make detailed notes before your appointment:

  1. Make a list of any medicines and pills you take, or bring them with you.
  2. Write down any symptoms that concern you (aches, pains or feelings).
  3. Write down when the symptoms started and what makes them better or worse.
  4. Ask for an interpreter or communication support, if you need it – the hospital has to provide you with this help.
  • Give yourself a pep talk

Before each appointment, give yourself a pep talk so that you go into the consultation room feeling in control and confident.

Remember, you may be seeing a doctor who is an expert in his or her field, but you know about how your condition affects you.

What you have to say about your condition and your thoughts about how to manage it are just as vital as what the medical team is doing.

  • Write down your questions and concerns

As well as taking notes with you, write a list of questions you have.

If you can, prioritise your questions. That way, if your appointment is short, you'll be sure to get your most pressing queries answered.

Questions that remain unanswered could perhaps be emailed or left until your next appointment.

  • Ask a friend or family member to accompany you

Hospital appointments can be stressful. Taking someone with you, such as a friend or relative, may help to relieve that stress. A third party can offer emotional support, think objectively about what is being said, and listen and remember accurately what the doctor says. They can also take notes while you ask questions.

That way, you can hopefully relax a bit and feel that you've got as much out of the hospital appointment as you possibly can. Remember, it's your right to take someone with you, so don't be dissuaded by a doctor or anyone else.

  • Be on time and don’t get stressed if the clinic is running late

Many doctors are guilty of running late. That doesn't give you a reason to be late  you can guarantee the day you turn up late is the day the doctor is running to time.

If the doctor is running late and it winds you up, remember it may be that they are late because someone else is getting the help they need just think, it could easily be you.

If you work yourself up, you're more likely to forget crucial things during your appointment.

Bring something to read and something to keep you occupied, and just keep as calm as you can.

If you have a late morning or afternoon appointment it might be worth ringing the doctor’s receptionist before you leave to ask if they are running late. You should ask at reception on arrival too, just so you have an idea of waiting time.

  • Try to stay positive

You may feel angry and frustrated at times, but it's vital to try to stay positive, especially when you're seeing the medical team.

This doesn't mean you can't show your emotions or explain how difficult you are finding something, but focusing on being positive and removing extreme emotion from a situation may help you get what you need (e.g. getting tearful during a meeting is different from shouting because you're stressed).

As time goes by and you deal with more and more doctors, you'll get better and better at communicating with them. Communication and interpersonal skills take time to master, so don't be hard on yourself if you struggle at first.

  • Take notes during your appointment

Taking notes during your appointment will help to crystallise what the doctor is telling you.

If you don't want to write the notes down, record the appointment (e.g. with your smartphone) or get a family member or friend to make written notes for you. 
This will enable you to review the appointment at your leisure once you're in your own (less stressful) environment. You also have the right to request a copy of the doctor's notes.

Explain to your doctor why you want to record the appointment. In one study where appointments were recorded, 91 per cent of patients thought the recording helped them to understand what the doctor said.

  • Ask for visual prompts

Your appointment may involve being given explanations about something that's happening in your body or a procedure that's being planned.

If you're having trouble visualising exactly what is being explained, ask your doctor to show you a picture or draw a diagram to help you understand what they mean.

Ask them to write down the name of it, too. That way, you can take the picture home with you to keep on reviewing in your own time (as well as being able to show it to friends and family).

You can also Google the search term the doctor has given you. When you Google, click 'Images' at the top of the home page and this will give you a selection of pictures to look at to help your search term make sense.

  • Ask how you can learn more

Ask your doctor how you can learn more about your condition or the treatment you are going to receive.

See if your doctor can refer you to a pamphlet, book or other resource (e.g. footage on the internet) to help you better understand what's going on.

The more understanding you have, the more effective you'll be in helping to treat and manage your condition.

Remember, if you believe you are not being dealt with properly, then you can complain.

You can find further information on this in our How to complain section.

Appointment checklist: before you leave the consultation

Before you leave your hospital appointment, make sure you are happy with the information you've been given.

Here is a checklist of points and questions you can tick off yourself as you go along. If there are any that haven't been ticked, direct them at the doctor before you leave.

  • "I would like to check that I understand what you said", then repeat back what they've told you.
  • "Can you explain it again, please? I still don't understand."
  • "I would like to have a copy of any letters sent to other doctors."
  • "What are these tests for?"
  • "How will I get the results?"
  • "When will I get the results?"
  • "Who do I talk to if I don't get the results?"
  • "What do you think is the best course of treatment for me?"
  • "Are there any side-effects or risks?"
  • "How long will I need the treatment for?"
  • "How will I know if the treatment is working?"
  • "How good is this treatment?"
  • "Have you treated similar cases, and if so, what was the outcome?"
  • "What will happen if I don't have any treatment?"
  • "Are there other things I can do to help myself?"
  • "What happens next?"
  • "Should I come back and see you again, and if so, when?"
  • "Who should I talk to if I am concerned/if things get worse?"
  • "Do you have any leaflets about my condition/this procedure that I could read?"
  • "Where do I get more information?"

Don’t be afraid to ask for a doctor’s email address or secretary’s phone number. Both may come in handy in the future.