In the Office

You have been referred to a doctor for your chronic pain. Chances are that this is not the first time you’ve been referred for the same problem. What you can bring to the appointment that can help you get the right care?

If you have been reading this series (Using Doctors), then you know one of the most important things to bring is a calm, rational mind that is free of unrealistic expectations and ready to learn. Easy to say but hard to do. Practice will lead to improvement but not perfection. You are human. You will fail many times at being calm, rational or ready. But you will get better if you keep practicing and learn from your failures.

Here is some practical advice on what else to bring and how to behave when you’re there in front of the doctor. Your job is to provide information that allows a doctor to formulate a diagnosis and management plan. The better the quality of your information, the better the quality of the diagnosis. Don’t rely on others. It’s your pain and you should be as responsible as you are capable of when it comes to providing information about your condition.

Always bring a list of your current medications. In fact, a list of all the medications you have ever tried for pain as well as your reaction to these medications, would be invaluable. The same is true for all other treatments you’ve tried. With this information, time won’t be wasted repeating failed drugs or treatments. For safety’s sake alone, you need to tell the doctor what drugs you take now to prevent a dangerous interaction with a new drug. Safety also mandates that you know your allergies and be able to describe your allergic reactions (eg. Hives).

Equally valuable are copies of any consultation and investigation reports that have already been done in your case. In other words get copies of what other doctors have written about you. Get copies of any test results, such as blood work, x-rays, CT/MRI scans and other investigations you’ve had. This is very valuable information and you should do your best to keep records for yourself of every specialist consultation and test result related to your pain. Repeating tests needlessly is costly, loses time and delays treatment. Information from a test result can lead to important changes in management.

Answer questions in as straight forward a manner as you can. It will not help you get appropriate care if you minimize or exaggerate your pain and distress, so be as accurate as you can with your descriptions.  This will be easier the more you keep in mind the importance of your role during an interview: to give the doctor the most complete picture of what is really going on with you. If you don’t understand a word or question ask for clarification before answering. Doctors differ in their ability to avoid technical terms. Help them be clearer by getting them to explain. Their information is as important to you as yours is to them.

Finally, answer the question that is asked. Long rambling answers can confuse things. There really is such a thing as too much information. Different specialists will focus on different things to arrive at a diagnosis, depending on their area of expertise. Expect that some of your concerns will not be addressed because the doctor is not trained to deal with them.

Remember that your purpose is to get the best care for your pain. Following the above suggestions goes a long way toward achieving that goal. It is in your interest to work at being a good source of information. In the next post I will talk about what to look for in a chronic pain doctor.

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