Making the most of your MS doctor appointments

Being prepared can help you get the most out of your next appointment

How often do you go to your MS appointment and feel unprepared or nervous? Do you leave feeling like there wasn’t enough time? Or like you didn’t get your questions answered? Worse yet, do you ever remember something important to ask your doctor after you’ve left?

An appointment with your doctor may be an intimidating experience, even if it is a routine follow-up and you are feeling well. If you are having problems related to MS, those 15 to 30 minutes spent with your doctor are important to your health. They should be planned wisely.

Communication is key

Doctors have different communication styles. Some may rely on pictures to educate. Others may write or type information. Some are friendlier, while others are more formal. It’s important to ask questions or ask your doctor to repeat something if you don't understand it.

You and your doctor may also have different goals for the appointment. For example, you may want to talk about painful burning sensations in your feet, but your doctor may be concerned that you did not get lab work done. Make sure you and your doctor are on the same page on the purpose of your appointment. Talk about any questions or concerns.

Tips for success

As a nurse practitioner, I’ve been in numerous appointments with doctors and patients. Here are some things to consider as you plan and prepare for future appointments.

Tips for a successful appointment

  • In the weeks ahead of your appointment, make sure you have completed any tests your doctor requested
  • Come prepared. Make a list of the top 3 to 5 issues you would like to discuss, and get right to it
  • Take your medications, vitamins, and supplements (or an up-to-date list). Also take any pharmacy information (local and specialty)
  • Be on time for your appointment
  • Be open to changes in your appointment and care plan in case you get new information in your last test results
  • Take notes on a tablet, phone, or pencil and paper
  • Take a care partner to act as an extra ear
  • At the end of your appointment, review your issues with your doctor. Make sure you leave feeling confident that all questions were answered and all concerns were addressed

Tips for specific appointments

  • Annual follow-up: If your symptoms are under control and you’re feeling alright, then use this time to see when your next MRI is due, review labs, get refills on medications, and ask about the latest research. If you are not feeling well or are experiencing new symptoms, make more frequent appointments so your needs can be met
  • New symptoms or relapse: Tell your doctor when your symptoms started, what makes them better or worse, and how they affect your daily activities. Ask about treatment and rehabilitation therapies. If you are prescribed a new treatment, ask about side effects and drug interactions. Make an appointment for a follow-up to discuss the results of the therapy
  • Testing follow-up: If you are reviewing your MRI, bring your images with you. If you are comfortable, ask your doctor to review them with you. If you are reviewing labs or other testing, be sure you understand the meaning of the results, and take notes

Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any questions or are experiencing any symptoms.

You can find even more tips about being your own best advocate.

Setting goals can be helpful

The ultimate goal of each visit is to prepare a treatment plan together that supports your needs in your life with MS. Your doctor has your best interest at heart. He or she can do an even better job helping you on your path to health if you are open and honest about your concerns. This includes symptoms and their management, your treatment, monitoring, and prognosis.

Part of living a healthy life includes keeping regular visits with your doctor, and maintaining an appropriate diet and exercise program. Hopefully, following these suggestions will lead to purposeful appointments where you and your doctor work as a team.



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