That crucial hospital appointment has been in your calendar for months and in your mind you’ve asked a thousand questions.
So what can you do to make sure you’re not bamboozled by the experience and get the most out of your visit?
Being prepared will put you in much better stead to both gather and give as much information as possible.
Here’s how to handle the appointment:
Be as prepared as you can be
Whether you’re going to meet a new doctor or one you’ve seen for a long time, it’s good to be prepared.
Take a bit of time to fill in the patient passport so that you have important information to hand without having to wrack your brains.
This will help to remove some pressure, bearing in mind that getting to hospital involves dealing with so many other things, like getting your child ready for the appointment and potential transport difficulties.
If you haven’t had time, remember to:
- Make a list of any medicines and pills your child takes or bring them with you
- Write down any symptoms that concern you (aches, pains or feelings)
- Write down when the symptoms started and what makes them better or worse
- Ask for an interpreter or communication support, if you need it
Give yourself a pep talk
Before each appointment, give yourself a little pep talk so that you go in feeling in control and completely confident.
Remember, you may be seeing a doctor who is an expert in his or her field, but you are a parent who is an expert in your child.
What you have to say about your child’s condition and your thoughts about how to manage their treatment is just as vital (some would argue even more so) as what the medical team are doing.
Write down your questions and concerns
As well as taking the patient passport with you write out a list of questions you have about your child’s issues.
If you can, prioritise your questions. That way, if your appointment is only short, you’ll be sure to get your most pressing queries answered.
Ones that remain unanswered could perhaps be emailed or left until next time.
Ask a friend or family member or friend to go with you
Hospital appointments can be stressful. Taking someone with you, such as a friend or relative, may help to relieve that pressure – a third party can offer emotional support, think objectively about what is being said, and listen and remember accurately what the doctor says. They can take notes while you ask questions.
That way, you can hopefully relax a bit and feel that you’ve got as much out of the hospital appointment as you possibly can. Remember, it’s your right to take someone with you so don’t be dissuaded by a doctor or anyone else.
Be on time
Many doctors are guilty of running chronically late for their appointments. That doesn’t mean you can’t be on time…you can guarantee the day you turn up late is the day he or she is running like clockwork.
If the doctor is late and it winds you up, remember it may be that they are late because someone else is getting the help they need – just think, it could easily be your child.
If you work yourself up, you’re more likely to forget crucial things in your own child’s appointment.
Bring something to read and something to keep your child occupied (as well as something for them to eat), and just keep as calm as you can.
If you have a late morning or afternoon appointment it might be worth ringing the doctor’s receptionist before you leave to ask if they are running late. You should ask at reception on arrival too just so you have an idea of waiting time.
Try to stay positive
You may feel angry and frustrated at times, but it’s vital to try to stay positive, especially when you’re seeing the medical team.
This doesn’t mean you can’t show your emotions or explain how difficult you may be finding something, but focusing on being positive and removing extreme emotion from a situation may help you get what you need (for example, getting tearful during a meeting is different from shouting because you’re stressed).
As time goes by and you deal with more and more doctors, you’ll get better and better at dealing with them. Communication and interpersonal skills take time to master so don’t be hard on yourself if you struggle at first.
Take notes during your visit
Taking notes during your child’s appointment will help to crystallise what the doctor is telling you.
If you don’t want to write them down, record the appointment (for example, with your smartphone) or get a family member or friend to do write it down or record it for you.
This will enable you to review the appointment at your leisure once you’re in your own (less stressful) environment. You also have the right to request a copy of the doctor’s notes.
Explain to your doctor why you want to record the appointment – in one study where appointments were recorded, 91% of patients thought the recording helped them to understand what the doctor said.
Ask for visual prompts
Your child’s appointment may involve being given explanations about something that’s happening in their body or a procedure that’s being planned.
Perhaps you’re having trouble visualising exactly what this means, so ask your doctor to show you a picture or jot down a drawing to help you understand what they mean.
Ask them to write down the name of it, too. That way, you can take the picture home with you to keep on reviewing in your own time (as well as being able to show it to friends and family).
You can also Google the search term he’s given you. When you Google, click ‘Images’ at the top and this will give you a selection of pictures to look at to help it make sense.
Ask how you can learn more
Ask your doctor if there’s any way of you learning more about your child’s condition or the treatment they are going to receive.
See if your doctor can refer you to a pamphlet, book or other resource (for example, a document or footage on the internet) to help you better understand what’s going on.
Remember, the more understanding you have, the more effective you’ll be in helping your child with the treatment and management of their condition.
Remember you have rights
If you feel you want to take things further and make a complaint, you have the right to do so.
Don’t know what your rights are? Or perhaps you’re flummoxed as to how to complain? You can find further information on this in our section on ‘How to complain’.