Appointment - getting the most from

Planning your appointment

It’s important to see the right healthcare professional for your condition. There is a wide range of different appointment types available, depending on what your health concern is and the urgency of your problem. For less urgent health concerns, you may need to wait several weeks to get an appointment. However, if you need urgent medical attention, you may be able to book an appointment on the day or simply turn up and wait to be seen.

If you think your health issue may require a longer consultation, mention this when you book, as longer appointments are sometimes available. Remember to cancel any appointments you can’t make.

Always check with your healthcare professional what their specific booking arrangements are. This varies depending on the type of healthcare professional you are seeing. Here are some things to remember about making appointments.

  • There is no specific timeframe that you will be able to get an appointment within – you could get one on the same day or you may have to wait several weeks.
  • If you’re struggling to get an appointment, there might be other healthcare professionals who could help you. For example, if you have symptoms of a cold, it might be worth seeing your pharmacist first.
  • If you need to change an appointment, try to do so as far in advance as you can, so your appointment can be given to someone else.

Communicating with your healthcare professional

Having a good relationship with your healthcare professional is an important part of shared decision making. The better you and your healthcare professional communicate, the more likely it is that you’re both going to understand what’s best for you. There is evidence to suggest that if you actively take part in managing your healthcare, you will have better results than people who don’t. It’s also been shown that if you’re more informed about your healthcare options, you’re more likely to choose less invasive treatments – for example, choosing to make lifestyle changes instead of having surgery.

Appointments can vary in length – for example, an appointment with your GP may only last 10 minutes, whereas an appointment with your physiotherapist or dentist may last for up to an hour. However, no matter how long or short your appointment is, think about preparing some questions you may want to ask your healthcare professional beforehand. This will save time on the day and help prevent you forgetting something you wanted to ask. Also, think about what information your healthcare professional will need from you, such as when your symptoms started. You may want to keep a medicine record or symptom diary to help jog your memory. Even small details can help a diagnosis or make a difference to your treatment, so don’t leave these out.

Once you’re in your appointment, take time to explain your problems and any symptoms. Don’t be shy; your healthcare professional will have heard it all before and will have the right experience to help you overcome any embarrassment.

You may find that different conditions and medicines can be tricky to understand and often involve long words that are hard to remember. Ask your healthcare professional to repeat anything you haven’t understood and, if it helps you, ask him or her to write things down for you. Phrases like the following may help your healthcare professional give you the information you need.

  • “You have used words that I don’t understand – can you explain them?”
  • “Could you repeat what you just said?”
  • “Can you explain that in another way?”

It sometimes helps to write down notes during your appointment. However, this can be difficult to do if your appointment is short, so try to keep these brief. You can always add to them after you have left. It’s important to respect the time allocated to you during your appointment, as other patients will be waiting to be seen after you. If you and your health professional feel you need more time, he or she may suggest booking another appointment. Don’t be put off – it’s better to have two appointments than to try and rush through any questions or queries you have.

Having someone with you during your appointment

Some people may find certain appointments a daunting experience for various reasons. You don’t have to attend appointments on your own. You can ask for a chaperone to be provided, or you could bring a friend or family member with you.

Chaperone

A chaperone is someone from your healthcare professional’s staff who is present during your appointment. This could be anyone who is available, such as a receptionist or nurse, or another member of the team, such as a healthcare assistant. If you’re not comfortable with the chaperone who is being offered, you can reschedule your appointment for when someone else who you feel is more appropriate is available.

The most common reason why you might want a chaperone is when you’re having an intimate examination or procedure, and you need to be partly or fully undressed. Chaperones are there to help you feel more comfortable during these types of examination, so you would usually expect them to be the same gender as you.

Family or friends accompanying you

Bringing a family member or friend along to your appointment can be useful and may offer extra support if you feel you need it. Family and friends know you well and can therefore help you make any decisions or ask any questions.

After your appointment

Whether it’s a 10 minute or an hour long appointment, the time can go quickly and you and your healthcare professional may have covered lots of areas. It can be useful to read over any notes that you or your healthcare professional made and take time to reflect on what was discussed.

Remember, your appointment hasn’t finished as soon as you leave the room – it’s important you have fully understood everything that was discussed. If you’re unsure about anything, arrange another appointment or phone consultation.

For long-term health conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, you may have regular appointments with your healthcare professional. If it’s an acute problem, such as measles or flu, you will usually only need one appointment but make sure you know when to go back to your healthcare professional if your symptoms don’t improve after the expected time period.

Further information

If you want to research or look up your health condition, use reliable websites and sources of information, such as national charity sites. One way to verify whether a website is reliable or not is to look for affiliation to accredited bodies. These include:

  • Health On the Net Foundation (HONcode)
  • The Information Standard

You can change who your doctor or healthcare professional is at any time – for example, you may move home or are unhappy with the service provided. If you change your doctor, there is no need to inform your previous doctor that you’re changing. You can simply sign up with a new doctor and they will handle any paperwork for you.

You’re allowed to see your own medical records and any referral letters written for you. However, there may be a fee for this and you will most likely have to request your records in advance. It can take up to 40 days for your request to be processed.