What Can I Do to Make My Doctor Visits as Productive as Possible?
Once you have received a diagnosis of mesothelioma, it is important that you make every doctor’s visit as productive as possible for your care. There are many steps that you can take in order to make sure that you get the most out of every visit with every member of your medical team. This includes collecting your medical records, bringing a support person, preparing yourself physically and emotionally, preparing questions for your doctor, preparing to answer questions asked by your doctor, taking your time during appointments, and following up after the fact. By following our recommendations, you can ensure that you are maximizing the productivity of every visit with a doctor for your mesothelioma treatment.
Collect Your Medical Records
The first step that you should take to make your doctor visits as productive as possible before ever stepping foot inside of an office is to collect your medical records. This includes more than just the medical records about your mesothelioma diagnosis. You should provide your doctor with your full and comprehensive medical history, including every report, scan, pathology report, and chart going back as far as you have records. Your doctor needs to understand what other illnesses and injuries you have suffered as well as any medications that you are currently on before prescribing any treatment for your mesothelioma. The doctor may be able to identify other issues that are associated with the mesothelioma that may also improve with the right care.
Every member of your mesothelioma medical team should be sent a comprehensive set of your medical records prior to your first doctor visit. In addition to being fully informed prior to your appointment, this also provides the team an opportunity to collaborate and communicate amongst themselves about your care. By sending a copy to every member of your healthcare team, you also ensure that a miscommunication error within the healthcare system will not hinder your mesothelioma care.
Bring a Support Person
Another way of making sure that your doctor visits for mesothelioma are as productive as possible is to bring a support person or people with you to your appointment. A mesothelioma diagnosis affects you more than physically; this diagnosis often affects people emotionally and psychologically, as well. Having a spouse, family member, or close friend with you at your doctor visit can provide the emotional support that you need to fully engage with your medical team.
In addition to emotional support, bringing another person with you to a doctor’s visit can also assist as another set of ears. They may pick up on something that the doctor says that you do not or have questions that you may not have considered for your medical team. If you choose to bring someone into the examination room with you, it should be someone that you trust with your medical information. Even if your support person does not come into the room with you during your visit, they can also be helpful after the fact in designating tasks for others to help you with once your visit is over.
Physically and Emotionally Prepare Yourself
A doctor visit for mesothelioma is different from any other type of routine doctor’s visit. It is important that you go into this appointment fully prepared, and that includes being prepared physically and emotionally. Try your best to get a full night’s sleep the night before your appointment so that you feel fully rested and alert during your time with your doctor. Try not to do anything that is too physically demanding the day before so that any examination provides a true and clear understanding of your physical health.
This type of doctor visit can be emotionally taxing, too, but it is important to go into this appointment with a clear mind. Do not take any medications beyond what is prescribed for your daily use. If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, insomnia, or other emotional issues because of your diagnosis, it is important that you share this with your doctor, as well. You must prepare yourself psychologically to hear information from your doctor that might be difficult, which is where a support person may be particularly helpful to lean on for help during difficult conversations. You want to put yourself in the best possible position to share and receive information in order to be as productive as possible during a doctor’s visit.
Prepare Questions to Ask Your Doctor
One of the best ways to be as productive as possible during a doctor visit, especially in the initial visits with your team, is to prepare questions ahead of the appointment to ask your medical team. These visits are your opportunity to speak one on one with the experts on mesothelioma and learn as much as possible about your diagnosis, treatment options, and the prognosis for your case. Below are some of the questions that you should consider asking your doctor during your visit in order to leave fully informed about your situation:
- What type of mesothelioma do I have?
- Where exactly is the tumor located? Has it spread beyond where it started?
- Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?
- What is the stage of cancer? What does this mean?
- What is my prognosis?
- If I am concerned about cost and insurance, who can help me?
- What treatment options are available?
- What clinical trials are available for me? Where are they located, and how do I find out more about them?
- What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?
- What type of experience do you have with this type of treatment?
- Should I get a second opinion? How do I do that?
- Are any treatments better or worse for me based on my pathology reports?
- What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate cancer, help me feel better, or both?
- What is the length of this treatment?
- Who will be part of my health care team, and what does each member do?
- Who will be leading my overall treatment?
- Where will my treatment take place? How many people with mesothelioma are treated there each year? What will the treatment be like?
- What are the possible side effects of this treatment, both in the short term and the long term?
- Will I need any other tests prior to getting this treatment?
- Will the recurrence rate change if I get this treatment?
- How can I keep myself as healthy as possible during treatment?
- How will I know if the treatment is working?
- In addition to treating my cancer, what can be done to treat my symptoms and side effects (such as pain medications or appetite stimulants)?
- How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities? Are there any other limits on my daily life?
- Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?
- Could this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children? If so, should I talk with a fertility specialist before cancer treatment begins?
- If I’m worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me?
- What support services are available to me? To my family?
- Can you suggest a mental health professional for me to see if I start to feel overwhelmed or depressed?
- If I have questions or problems, who should I call?
- What do we do if the treatment does not work or cancer comes back?
- What type of surgery will I have? What will be removed?
- How long will the operation take?
- How long will I be in the hospital?
- Can you describe what my recovery from surgery will be like?
- Who should I contact about any side effects I experience? And how soon should I contact someone?
- What are the possible long-term effects of having this surgery?
- Will I need additional treatment after surgery?
- What type of treatment is recommended?
- What is the goal of this treatment?
- How long will it take to give this treatment?
- Will I receive this treatment at a hospital or clinic? Or will I take it home?
- What side effects can I expect during treatment?
- Who should I contact about any side effects I experience? And how soon?
- What are the possible long-term side effects of having this treatment?
- What can be done to relieve the side effects?
- Will my cancer be in remission after this treatment?
- Is this option covered by my insurance?
- What is the chance that cancer will come back? Should I watch for specific signs or symptoms?
- What are my options if cancer comes back?
- What long-term side effects or late effects are possible based on the cancer treatment I received?
- What follow-up tests will I need, and how often will those tests be needed?
- Are there any long-term limitations on what I can do?
- How do I get a treatment summary and survivorship care plan to keep in my personal records?
- Who will be leading my follow-up care?
- What survivorship support services are available to me? To my family?
Based on the conversation with your doctor, these questions should be a good start for getting the most out of your visit with your medical team. These questions are also good to ask because it may spur conversations within your healthcare team about the various treatment options and what will work best for your case.
Prepare to Answer Questions from Your Doctor
In addition to bringing in questions to ask your doctor, in order to maximize the productiveness of your doctor visits you should also be prepared to answer questions that your doctor may have of you. Providing a comprehensive set of medical records prior to the visit is incredibly helpful, but your doctor will also need to understand the current state of your physical and psychological health in order to properly assess what types of treatment are available for your mesothelioma case. You should be prepared to answer questions about the following:
- Follow-up on the medical history provided
- A list of current medications
- Physical symptoms and any current limitations
- Psychological issues, previous or current
- Job duties
- Level of daily activities
- What you would like to continue to be able to do during treatment
- What you are comfortable limiting during treatment
- What type of support system do you have at work and at home, and
- Financial and insurance questions
While it may seem a lot intrusive, your medical team needs to know everything about your current state. Depending on your comfort level with others knowing these private details about you, if you have brought a support person in with you to the visit you may wish to ask them to leave the room while you discuss these questions with your medical team. The best way to maximize the effectiveness of your doctor visits is to do whatever is necessary to feel comfortable and fully inform your healthcare team about what is going on.
Take Your Time
The last thing that you should feel during your doctor visits is rushed. It is critical that you take your time during appointments with your doctor and medical team in order to feel fully informed when you leave about your mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment options. Doctors often use complex medical jargon or complicated medical terms when discussing a mesothelioma case. Do not be afraid to ask your doctor to explain what they are talking about or to provide an explanation in layperson terms.
In some situations, a doctor may assume that you have more information than you actually do. This can happen when you are meeting with a subsequent member of your medical team who assumes that the first doctor provided you with more information than they actually did. In this case, a doctor may start talking about treatments or other options that may not make sense because of the miscommunication, and it is ok to ask your doctor to stop and explain what they are saying. You have the right to expect information to be provided for you in a way that is completely understandable and provides a comprehensive explanation of your diagnosis and care.
Make sure that you take notes or have your support person taking notes while you are asking questions during your doctor visits. Review those questions and answers to ensure that you have no additional questions before wrapping up the appointment. Take the visit at your pace so that you fully understand your disease and your prognosis. If you have any fears or concerns about what is happening, talk to your doctor during your visit. Your doctor is likely to become your closest confidante during this process, and there is nothing that you could tell them that they have not already heard or that would shock them. Only when you feel completely comfortable with the information you have received and asked every question you wanted an answer should you feel ready to end your appointment with your doctor.
Following Up with Your Team
Making your doctor visits as productive as possible does not end when you walk out of the doctor’s office. Follow-up is also critical, especially in the initial stages of your mesothelioma diagnosis. Before leaving the doctor’s office, be sure that you have the contact information of who you can contact for any follow-up questions that may arise once you leave. Many mesothelioma specialists have nurses or physician’s assistants who can return your emails or calls with information about your prognosis or treatment plan. Be sure to ask what preferred method of communication the doctor uses and whether there are limitations on the days or hours when the office will get back to you. You should do this with every member of your treatment team and every office that you will visit during the time that you are receiving care.
Depending on the outcome of decisions made during one doctor visit, in order to improve the productivity of other appointments, it may also behoove you to contact the other members of your medical team to inform them of what was determined at other visits. While this information is usually included in the medical chart and reports that are shared with the entire team, personal contact can go a long way in ensuring that the information is received. By doing this and following the other steps outlined, you can ensure that you maximize the productivity of every doctor visit you have during the treatment and care of your mesothelioma case.