A doctor showing something on a laptop

How To Visit the Doctor: 8 Easy Steps

To visit the doctor can be a struggle, not because it’s hard but because it’s usually very unsatisfying. The main reason for this is that you only visit the doctor when something is wrong. Furthermore, the consultations at a general practitioners` office are usually short and with little empathy. As soon as you are done with this short visit, more often than not you leave with a prescription for medication. Regardless of the situation though, there are ways you can take the matter into your own hands. By keeping certain things in mind you can make sure that you get from that visit what you actually need. Underneath I describe 8 easy steps that help you make the most of your doctors visit.

Yoga

I remember very well how the yoga instructor told the group, including me, to get onto our hands and knees. Child’s pose was next, so I moved slowly while I focused on my breath. On the way to bringing my butt to my heels I felt something in my left knee; what was that? I got into child’s pose, waited, and I planted my toes firmly on the floor. Then I pressed my hands down and kept my elbows extended. After that, I extended my knees to go straight into downward facing dog. I moved up slowly, focusing on my breath again and – SNAP!!

F**k, that hurt! The sound and pain came from my left knee. I stood up but I could barely stand on my left foot, the pain was too much. When I had a look at my knee, I quickly noticed it was swollen at the front. The yoga teacher came over and asked if I was fine. I told her what happened and I couldn’t help but think: “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH”.

I injured my knee while climbing 8 months before and I was neglecting some returning instability and pain issues. These would come every now and then, however, I would always know which exercise would help my knee return to its original state. Sometimes it’s really a disadvantage to know how the body works.

So there was no way out anymore. I had been making up excuses to not visit the doctor for a long time. However, this time it became clear to me, that something was quite wrong. So there started a period of 6 months wherein I visited doctors, specialists and hospitals more often than I ever did in my entire life. This is what I learned in this period.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Healthcare System

In a blog post a little while back I wrote about why in healthcare treating the origin of the problem isn’t the solution yet. I basically argued that, as long as there is only revenue in the healthcare system when people are sick, there will be no reason to get people healthy. This means that if you were to be treated for the origin, of let’s say your back pain, you would change your posture at work and you would start strengthening your core muscles. The result of this approach would be that after this treatment, you wouldn’t need a healthcare provider anymore. However, if you simply treat the pain that comes with your back issues, you depend on your doctor longer.

Medication is usually what you get when you visit the doctor
Photo by Rawpixel from Unsplash

This right there, is the essence of the healthcare system. Up until now, most money is being made by treating symptoms and by doing surgery. Only when it becomes more lucrative to implement a better and sustainable option, like a lifestyle change, there will be no alteration of the proposed treatments by your healthcare providers.

So if you are on your way to your doctor, I believe this is essential information to keep in the back of your mind. As things go you usually get presented the most lucrative option not necessarily the best option. As this is so deeply ingrained into the healthcare system this is not necessarily the way your healthcare provider motivates his decision.

2. Become Your Own Specialist

I remember very well a couple of years ago when I was working in a clinic in Switzerland. There, one day, I treated a man of 60-something with back pain. From his tone of importance, I understood that his close relationship with his general practitioner made him feel quite good. Also, in between the lines he mentioned that his doctor was the one that knew his body best. In response, I shouted: “What the hell!?”, in my head.

I have experienced this more often, that people refer to their doctor as the specialist of their body. I had clients that told me the same, that I as their Physical Therapist was the one that knew everything about their body.

It’s possible that your healthcare provider knows a great deal about bodies, surgeries, medical treatments and so forth. However, he or she doesn’t know how these work with you. As things go, you are unique and you are also the one that needs to live with the consequences of any treatment being done. It is therefore wise to figure out what you think is best for you, and preferably before you enter any clinic.

Here are a couple of things I think you can do to become your own specialist:

  • Talk to friends. Friends can help you provide with a context by sharing their own experiences. If you are lucky you have one or more friends that work in healthcare. These people can provide you with an expert opinion up front. If you don’t have any friends that do, don’t forget that your friends also have friends.
  • Talk to multiple healthcare providers. When it comes to things like surgery I always advise to get at least a second opinion. In my process to find the right solution I visited three knee specialists. This was mainly because the first two specialists proposed opposing lines of treatment.
  • Search the internet.
    • Google: With Google, you should be aware that it can both be your biggest friend and your biggest enemy. This is because the results of your search severely depend on which search terms you use. At the same time, the most popular results end up on top. These are more often than not websites that care more about clicks than quality information. Therefore, to make the most out of Google, try to use a variety of search terms. Then after that, don’t be afraid to look further than the first 4 hits.
    • Scientific Papers: With some scientific background and access to scientific journals, you can learn a lot. By browsing through scientific articles you can get a pretty good idea of how effective certain medication is, or the chance the effects of your surgery is going to last.
    • Forum. Forums are usually places where you can find a lot of people talking about one subject. Like a forum for people with Multiple Sclerosis, or people figuring out ways to deal with their back pain. Facebook groups are a good alternative in this case as well. These spaces also allow you to ask any questions you would like to see answered.
    • Websites of Big Health Organizations. These websites are usually good to learn more about specific diseases. Think of the American Heart Association and the Dutch Diabetes Foundation. The information and recommendations on these websites are usually based on sound scientific research.
    • Websites of Governmental Organizations. On websites like these, you can also expect to find quality information on health in general. One website in this category I have come to really appreciate is the British NHS.
A checklist is a good thing to take with you to the doctor
Photo by Glenn Carstens Peters from Unsplash.

3. Bring a List

When you have taken the time to become the specialist in your health condition, write down all the questions that remain.

Before I went to see a knee-specialist I had searched the internet for ages and looked through every scientific article I could find on meniscus injuries. Because as it turned out after that yoga class, and the MRI I did after, my medial meniscus was dislocated. So with this in the back of my mind, I had looked up all possible treatments and the outcomes I could expect from them.

Still, everything that wasn’t clear I wrote down. As things go, when you enter the doctors’ office he usually takes charge of the conversation. Therefore, it is useful to have your list to not forget that the meeting is for your sake.

4. Go Together

Another thing I cannot recommend enough, is to go together. This is for the following reasons:

  • Two people hear more than one.
  • A family member or friend can give you confidence.
  • A friend or family member can discuss the contents of the conversation with you afterward.
  • A second person can take care of things in case you feel incapable of doing so.

5. Record the Conversation

I didn’t manage to do this during my visits over the previous months, but I realize that recording your consultation can be very useful. Definitely if you are not that familiar with human health. Another way to do this is to make notes. However, when you record you can concentrate better on the conversation with your doctor. Plus you can listen to the exact words when you are home.

It might be that you heard some new terms and got a load of information. When you have some time to absorb all this novelty a second time you usually understand it better. Also, you can use this information to do another search on the internet, or to talk about it with your friends again.

Health scaring is a real thing.”

6. Don’t Rush the Process

Health scaring is a real thing. Things like “If you don’t quit smoking now you will die in 5 years”, “You have cancer, if you don’t start chemo now it might spread” and “You really have to do surgery now or there might be no time to heal” are not fun to be told. As a consequence though, you might feel afraid and helpless.

However, when you are afraid you can’t think clearly. It’s like when you are drowning. You will grab onto anything that looks like it might help you survive. That this could be a crocodile isn’t the most important thing at that moment.

So even though it seems that time is pressing, or even if it actually is, take a step back en look again. Rarely you will have to make your decision within 24 hours. But even then, there is plenty of time to look into alternatives, browse the internet and talk to different people.

a surfer looking at the waves
Take a step back, and have another look at your options. Photo by Ryan Loughlin from Unsplash

I for myself was told that if I wanted to do surgery on my knee I’d better do it sooner rather than later. As I had postponed this knee issue for a long time already, the chances of a successful meniscus reconstruction, the preferred type of surgery, were decreasing. Nevertheless, I was mentally not ready and I tried another 8 weeks of conservative treatment. In the meantime, I had another look at all the options, but in the end I concluded that surgery was the right way to go.

7. Go Back

I visited the third knee-specialist four times. First to get his opinion on my MRI. After this consult, I didn’t want to do surgery. Then over time, I decided I wanted to and went back. I initiated the process and did the necessary blood and heart exams. After I paid another visit to the clinic to discuss these exams and set the date for the surgery. Still, after this visit, I remained insecure about the type of surgery and I lacked confidence in the surgeon. This made me decide to pay him one more visit to address some of my doubts. Only then, I felt fully comfortable and was sure he would be able to help me.

These four visits count up to one hour of interaction with the specialist. If I would have decided to do surgery right away, I would have only had thirty minutes of interaction with him. Who do you trust with your life after 30 minutes? Nobody, I assume.

So I can only recommend you visit your doctor, specialist or any healthcare provider for that matter, as often as you need. If you trust your doctor he will perform a lot better. If this is because of the placebo effect or not, it doesn’t matter because the end result is that you will be better.

Meditation is there to help you become good at life, not meditation.”

8. Take Care of Yourself

This is as much a reminder to you as a not to myself, but take care of yourself. The body has limits and there are certain things that do nothing but increase the risk of disease or injury. So to finish this behemoth of a blog post off, here is a list of things that I hope will help you stay out of doctors offices for the longest time possible.

  • Rest sufficiently. Take days off between days of intense exertion, whatever the form. Also, try to sleep between 7 and 9 hours every night.
  • Eat right. Don’t wait until you’re 55 and you can’t see your genitals anymore to change your diet. If you eat healthy now you will be able to enjoy life a lot more, both now and in the future.
  • Brush, floss and toothpick your teeth two or three times a day. Clean your teeth, because having troubles with your teeth is a pain in the ass. Elephants die as soon as their teeth go bad, humans don’t. Lucky for us, however, putting some gold crowns in your jaw costs a lot of money.
  • Exercise. Get moving, really, exercise is as good as antidepressants and it helps you stay on weight, sleep better and improves your concentration.
  • Make moving a part of your day. Continuous movement is at least as good exercise and seems to be an essential part in longevity.
  • Don’t train at your limit (all the time). Stay away from your limits. This is the moment you get injured. Save this for matches, competitions or rare occasions.
  • Breath. Do breathing exercises as proposed by Wim Hof, or take at least 10 minutes every day to meditate. Just like exercise this will help you manage stress better, augment concentration and fill your life with more happiness. It doesn’t matter if you suck at meditating. Meditation is there to help you become good at life, not meditation.

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