Your doctor wants you to ask questions

By Sam Weiss, Providence Medical Group patient and family advisor

Being your healthiest requires teamwork. You are the most important member of that team which also includes your health care provider, the other staff at the provider’s office, and in many cases, your family. The best possible outcome of that team effort depends on good communication and that means answering and asking questions. The answers you provide to your care team’s questions contain important information about you and can be used to update your electronic medical record, which will ensure a good medical history. Your questions give your care team additional information about you, such as what you are most concerned about. So don’t be afraid to speak up.

Providence Medical Group has a communication tool that can help - the after visit summary. The after visit summary is a paper that contains the medical advice your provider has given you, your next steps and next appointment. It also has other important information that can come in handy. Need a list of your medications? Want to know when you had your last flu shot? The after visit summary provides that and more.

Your most effective communication comes from just a few easy steps.

Before you go to the doctor's office
It happens to most of us, you think of things you want to ask your provider in the days before your appointment and then you forget some of your questions while you are in the doctor’s office. That’s why we recommend that you write down your top three questions to ask your provider – this is a good place to include a note to yourself to ask for your after visit summary.

During Your Appointment
Make sure to ask the questions you prepared before your appointment. Start by asking the ones that are most important to you. Make sure you understand the answers you get. You can take notes or bring someone with you to your appointment to help you understand and remember what you heard. If you don’t understand or are confused, ask your provider to explain the answer again. If there are any changes to your medications, find out if there are any specific side effects or issues you should be on the alert for. Because remembering all of the things you and your care provider discuss during your appointment can be a challenge, patients are finding that they really appreciate getting the after visit summary because it is a record of those things that were discussed.

Before you leave
When your appointment is over, if you don’t get an after visit summary, just ask! Your Providence Medical Group clinic has the tools in place to produce one easily for you – it isn’t a bother and it IS a powerful tool for you in managing your health. It will contain information about the medications that your provider wants you to take, any immunization reminders and other instructions you received during your visit. Look it over, make sure you understand the next steps your provider is recommending. Don't leave your doctor's office without your after visit summary and the answers you need.

After your appointment
After you meet with your provider, you will need to follow his or her instructions to keep your health on track. Your provider may have you fill a prescription or make another appointment for tests, lab work, or a follow-up visit. It is important for you to follow your provider’s instructions. If you get asked by a family member “What did the doctor say?” your after visit summary will provide an easy reference that you can share with them if you want to.

Asking questions and providing information to your provider and other care team members can improve your care. Talking with your provider leads to better care results and a more satisfying experience with members of your care team. Remember you are the key player on your health care team. Prepare questions, ask them, get your after visit summary and follow through with your provider’s advice. The result should be a healthier you and isn’t that why you visit the doctor’s office in the first place?

About the author: Sam Weiss serves on the Patient and Family Advisory Council, a group of volunteers who work with Providence Medical Group to provide input from the patient’s perspective. Sam recently chaired the committee whose project involved getting posters placed in Providence Medical Group clinics reminding patients to ask for their after visit summary. If you would be interested in volunteering with Patient and Family Advisory programs, you can submit your application here: contact us.