Let’s just face it. No one wants to spend their time at the doctor’s office and more often lately many of my patients feel as though their physicians seem rushed when they are being seen. However, even with these feelings, your appointment with your physician is all about YOU and you need to feel prepared with “talking points” to get the most out of your visit. When you visit your pulmonologist keep in mind that all they can see in that moment is a snapshot of how you are doing. Sure, they are probably excellent clinicians and may do an amazing job at assessing your lungs, however it is up to each patient to include a dialogue to catch their physician up on the latest with their lung condition. Pulmonologists are typically extremely knowledgeable about lung conditions but one thing they are not… mind readers. It is up to each patient to give them the low down of how things have been going since your last appointment. I recommend you bring a close friend or family member with you to your doctor’s appointment because it never is a bad idea to have a second set of eyes and ears to help you remember and recount all that was said and done at your appointment.
Here are some things you should take note of BEFORE to your appointment:
1. When setting up your appointment, you may be asked to get an x-ray or perform a breathing test called a PFT. Make sure these tests are completed well in advance of your appointment so that you can ask your physician about them at your appointment.
2. Write down any symptoms you are currently experiencing on a day to day with your lung condition that concern you. Also, make note of things that you feel have changed since your last visit. (For example: Is your sleep being affected by your lung condition? Are you having to cut back on your activity due to increased breathlessness? Are you noticing more of a cough or mucus production lately?)
3. Formulate a list of all your current medications. Write down the time of day that you are taking each of your “breathing medications” and record how often you feel as though you are having to use your “rescue inhaler” or short acting bronchodilator each day. (If you are having to use it more often, your physician may decide to adjust your “controller medication” so you don’t experience as many episodes of shortness of breath) Notate if you are seeing any adverse reactions to the medications that you are taking.
4. If you have been prescribed supplemental oxygen and are having difficulty with poor oxygen saturations, write down the instances that these episodes are occurring.
5. If you are exercising on your own or at a pulmonary rehab, bring a log or synopsis of your exercise routine and how often you are doing it. This is a good way of showing your physician what your exercise tolerance is with your lung condition.
During your appointment:
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be honest with your physician during your appointment. Your feedback in relation to how your treatment is going as well as managing your life on a day to day will help your physician immensely when deciding on a plan of care. Whip out your “pre-appointment” talking points and go through them one by one. If you have brought a friend or family member, ask them to take notes or record the conversation while it is going on.
Here are some questions to ask your pulmonologist while you are at the appointment:
1. (If completed) How did my x-ray and breathing tests look to you? Are there any areas of concern for you or areas of decline/improvement since my last visit? (You can also ask for a copy of the results for your own personal record)
2. What else can I do to improve my lung health and my quality of life? Are there any changes I can make to help my condition? (If you are a smoker, this is a great time to ask about smoking cessation and other available avenues for quitting smoking. You can do it!)
3. What should I do if I feel my lung condition worsening? What are some red flags that would indicate that I need to see you? What other complications and health conditions should I look out for with my diagnosis?
4. What benefits can I expect to see from my inhaled medication? How do I know if they are working for me? Are there any side effects with the medications that I am taking that I should be concerned about?
5. Do I need any shots or vaccinations? (Many pulmonologists recommend that their patients get a pneumonia vaccine and a flu shot. Some doctors will also recommend that you get a shingles vaccine as well.)
6. What types of physical activity or exercise would you recommend to someone with my lung condition? How often should I be exercising?
7. What other treatments are available for my lung diagnosis? Are there any clinical trials that I may be eligible to participate in? Would a lung transplant be an option for me at some point? (Many of my patients don’t ask these questions because they feel like if they were a candidate for any of these options, that their physician would have recommended it to them. I strongly encourage you though to be your own advocate and ASK about these options if you would consider them. You may be glad that you did!)
After asking your questions, make sure you understand the answers that the pulmonologist has giving you. If you need more clarification, don’t be afraid to ask. This is your time with an expert in the field. Use it to your advantage by making sure you have all your questions answered. Lastly, find out when he would like to see you again and what the plan is for further treatment. I also would find out how he would like to hear from you if you have any concerns or adverse reactions your treatment. Should you call the office or would he like for you to email him? Many physicians like the idea of emailing communication as long as it isn’t an emergent question. Also many practices are offering a “patient portal” that allows you to see all of your lab results as well as enables you a way of communicating with you physician.
On your way out the door:
· Schedule your next appointment. Often time you will have the most flexibility with your day and time if you do it in advance.
· Grab any pertinent patient education booklets that you see. My philosophy is: if you learn ONE new tip/trick/piece of advice from one of those patient education booklets… it was worth the read.
· Pat yourself on the back that you were prepared and had a thorough and productive visit. :)
Thanks for Reading!
Remember: We are in this TOGETHER!
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