My last doctor’s visit for my “How are you doing?” and “How is your medication working?” appointment ended the same way as the previous visits. Me leaving the office feeling that nothing was accomplished. The same concerns brought up with similar results as the times before. Me going home and feeling that I was at a standstill on my road to manageability/recovery.
In the area where I live there is such a large shortage of doctors, as in many other places, and a great number of people rely on Nurse Practitioners as their GPs. I am one of those people. I am not saying that I think NPs are not capable, because I believe they 100% are and I am thankful that they exist.
When I went to my first appointment with my NP after my psychological assessment and my new diagnosis of Bipolar 1, she let me know that she was not very knowledgeable about the disorder. At the time, I was okay with that as I had only limited knowledge myself. But that was then. That was in September of 2015.
I feel that at this point in my journey she isn’t really listening to my needs and my opinions. Whether that is because of her lack of knowledge on Bipolar Disorder or because I am not being clear enough with my needs/wants or because of her large number of patients, it is very frustrating and causes me added stress that I really do not need. I have even had to go as far as reminding her I need my once-every-three-months blood work done to be sure my meds are not affecting the functioning of my liver. Is that really something a patient should have to remind their GP about?
What triggered this specific blog topic is that I have an upcoming appointment where I need to bring up, yet again, how my sleep is almost nonexistent, how I feel there may be the need for another med adjustment and that in February I will need my blood work done.
It is a difficult situation because I do really like her and am comfortable talking to her and can be 100% honest with her, but my mental health is at stake. She is all I have in the medical field. I have no psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor, it is just her and I. So, after some quality time with Google and searching for tips on helping this next appointment be successful, or at least more so then in the past, I discovered some advice I had never thought about previously. Here are the top tips I thought would be most useful to me, and to possibly you:
Do your homework and go to your appointment prepared. The reality is that the more informed you are about the options for treatment of your health condition, the better care you’ll get. Write down, on a piece of paper, the top 3 topics/concerns you would like to have answered or brought up during the appointment.
You have the right to take someone with you to a doctor’s/GP appointment, whether they are for supportive purposes or to advocate for you or for any other reason. This is your right.
Many doctors/GPs offer the option to request a longer appointment slot then normal. I know with my NP the appointments are generally only 15 minutes which makes it hard to fit in all concerns I may have. This is one tip I am going to try when booking my next appointment. Also, some offices now also offer alternative ways of corresponding like via telephone or email. I personally have used a phone appointment before but that was just for a prescription refill.
Don’t be afraid to question or request something from your doctor/GP. If you are disagreeing with them about something, be sure to be clear as to why you do not agree. No one knows what is going on inside your mind and body but you. If you are feeling like you are being rushed, ask the doctor to slow down a little. If you do not understand something they are saying to you, ask them to put it into simpler terms for you to understand. (For me, this is a hard one. Anxiety sky rockets through my veins at any form of possible conflict, even if it is for my own good.)
Maintain your own medical records. This is something I wish I had of done from the beginning. Write down information from appointments that is important into a journal or note book to refer back on when necessary. Medication changes, last date of blood work, test results etc. could all be useful things to write down. Don’t be afraid to write things down while in the appointment (especially for people who suffer from quite bad memory problems) This could also come in useful if for whatever reason you must switch doctors.
Be respectful of the doctor, reception, and nursing staff. From the start, don’t forget that you and your doctor are on the same team (or should be). It isn’t helpful to view this process in a confrontational manner, and most doctors want to avoid confrontation. Being nasty, abusive, or upset won’t help your cause. Be polite as well as firm.
If after you have tried everything and still feel you are getting nowhere, it may be time to seek out a new doctor/GP, as difficult of a task that may be.
About Karen M. Thompson
Michelle is a 2014 graduate of the Child and Youth Care Program at Loyalist College. During her time in the program she got to take many courses on Mental Health/Mental Illnesses. While she was learning academically, she was also learning quite a lot about herself as well. It was during this time when her mental health struggles became noticeable to herself and those around her. She had struggled from her mid-teens to her late 30's never quite knowing what was the root cause. In August of 2015 she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1. Michelle has now found a passion for telling her life story and struggles to educate students in hopes that by doing so they will have the knowledge and power to help put a stop to the stigma that affects so many with mental health issues.