Making Your Below the Belt Medical Appointment Awesome!

Going to a doctor's appointment can feel overwhelming and even uncomfortable, especially when it comes to below the belt topics. However, by being an active partner and advocate in your healthcare some of those foreboding emotions may be minimized some of the anxiety experienced, lead to a more productive appointment, and transparent relationship with your licensed medical provider.

Medical providers - doctors, advanced practice providers, nurses, pharmacists, and other clinicians should be viewed as partners. One's health should never be perceived as a dictatorship, where someone is telling you what to do without providing reasons and implications. So, to assist in creating a fruitful partnership with your care team we are providing some tips to support in building a strong relationship with your healthcare provider, as well as advocating for yourself (or those you care bout).

Preparing for Your Appointment   

Woman talking with doctor

When preparing for a medical appointment it is important to provide all of the information to your provider, as their ability to assist is only as good as the information received.  Following the below tips can assist in ensuring time well spent.

  • Make note of all medications you are taking including over the counter medication and supplements (vitamins). Taking a picture is even more helpful to minimize transposing letters, dosing, etc.
  • Identify your three major issues, as time is limited
  • Note specifics about those issues, e.g.: how often symptoms occur, pain and pain level, type of pain - crushing, burning, etc. and what you've tried to alleviate discomfort.
  • If you want to discuss something you believe is a bit more complicated, call the office and ask to speak to the nurse. This provides a heads up and can assist your provider in being more efficient when they meet with you.
  • Bring someone with you as a second pair of eyes and ears.
  • Wear something comfortable, especially if it is an annual exam that includes a PAP smear.

Talking with Your Medical Provider

Having conversations with medical providers can feel like you're a fish out of water, and even more so when it comes to discussions regarding the vagina, vulva, periods, sexual health, etc. So, we are sharing a few pointers to make things less stressful during an appointment.

  • Introduce yourself to anyone new who comes into your treatment room be it  doctors or nurses. Inform them of how you would like to be addressed be it your legal name or nickname.
  • Share your three major concerns regarding your health.
  • If your native language is not that of your healthcare provider, request help for someone to translate/interpret for you in your native language. Another option is to bring a friend or family member with you to help. However, if you are preceding with the latter, always ensure the friend repeats to the provider what was said to ensure accuracy, as some things don't always translate well.
  • Ensure your providers know you are engaged in your care by making eye contact when speaking.
  • Be transparent with your medical history, this includes sexual history.
  • Inform the healthcare team if you have any hearing or vision problems that make it hard to communicate with them.
  • Listen while they explain your diagnosis or treatment options, make notes if necessary. Once they’re finished, ask questions or bring up your concerns regarding what was shared.
  • Ask how to contact your doctor’s office with questions, insurance matters, medicine refills, or to schedule follow-ups. Some offices may prefer email to phone calls with non-urgent requests.

Advocating for Yourself (or others)

Not feeling heard, believed, or taken seriously should never occur during a medical appointment, unfortunately it does happen. Knowing how to respectfully advocate for your health can minimize feelings of being dismissed. Here are a few tips to use if you believe you're not receiving the care you deserve.

Ask Questions During office visits, ask the doctor to explain:

  • All treatment options for your condition
  • Why tests, treatments, or procedures are being recommended
  • Risks, side effects, and costs of any tests, treatments, or procedures
  • Success rates of potential treatments and for people of your ethnic racial demographic, as certain treatments have varying success rates amongst racial groups.
  • Any medical terms or suggestions you don’t understand
  • If there is a student observing and you're not comfortable, ask the doctor for the student to not participate in your appointment.

If the doctor recommends certain treatments or tests:

  • Ask the cost and if there are less expensive options. Ask if there’s another drug from the same class that is covered by insurance. Or, see if a branded drug can be swapped for a generic. If the doctor doesn’t know, the pharmacist should be able to assist.
  • If finances and insurance are a concern, ask what is necessary right now versus tests or procedures that can be delayed until you meet your deductible or have enough money.
  • Call pharmacies or go online to find the best price on any new prescription drugs.

It's also important to not sign any consent form until you understand it completely and the doctor has answered all your questions. It's also OK to ask for time to read the information and call the office back or come in for a follow up. If for any reason you don't feel comfortable, you can also seek a second opinion.

Last, but certainly not least if at any point you feel uncomfortable during your appointment, you can request for a nurse or someone else to be present. You can also request the appointment end.

Here's to creating an open relationship with your doctor and care team.