Sometimes when you have appointments with GPs, psychiatrists or other allied health workers, you can be so busy trying to remember some of the things you wanted to talk about that you forget all the other things you wanted to talk about.
Also, professionals get so used to using jargon or technical language that it can be difficult to understand what they’re talking about.

But there are some very simple things you can do that will help you get the best out of appointments.

1. Before you go, prepare

Think about the following:

  • Have I booked enough time? This mainly applies to appointments with GPs, especially if it’s your first visit to a particular GP. If there’s a lot you want to discuss, make sure you’ve booked a long enough appointment, and if you decide you haven’t, phone the receptionist and make a longer one.

  • What do I want from the appointment? Maybe I want to get a referral somewhere or get answers to some questions I have. As you’re thinking about what you want from the appointment, write things down. Write down the main reason you’re going, and all the questions you want to ask. Keep your list and take it along to the appointment. Whoever you’re seeing will be pleased that you’ve been organised enough to make a list – it makes their job easier.

  • What information can I take along that will be useful? Unless your appointment is with someone you’ve already been dealing with, it will be really useful to take all the information that you think might be helpful. This could include information about any:

    • medication you’re currently using
    • symptoms of mental illness you’ve been experiencing recently
    • symptoms of physical health conditions you’ve been experiencing recently
    • mental or physical health conditions you’ve had in the past.
  • What – or who – can I take along that will be useful? As well as your list of questions, don’t forget to take along a pen and some paper in case you want to write things down. Also, if you think it would help, ask a relative or friend to go along with you; maybe they could take notes while you talk, or maybe act as an interpreter if you think you might need one.  If you think the appointment is likely to be stressful, ask someone to go with you.

2. While you’re at the appointment

Always remember why you’ve gone to the appointment – it’s probably to get some help and information.
Ask questions. Ask any questions that you brought with you, and ask any questions that come up during the appointment. Ask the professional to explain anything you don’t understand, and ask again and again until you do understand.

The types of questions that come up might include:

1. Diagnosis, for example:

  • How sure are you about this diagnosis?
  • Do you think it would be helpful to speak with family or important others to get a more complete picture of what’s going on for me?

2. Treatment/medication, for example:

  • Why are you recommending it?
  • How long will I need the treatment for?
  • How does the treatment work?
  • Does the treatment usually get good results?
  • Is there anything I need to know about the treatment? (For example, does a particular medication have side-effects?)
  • Do you have any information about it that I can take away with me?

3. What the next step is, for example:

  • Do I need to see you again?
  • What do I do if my symptoms get worse?

Before you leave, check that:

  • you’ve covered everything on your list
  • you’ve understood everything
  • you know what happens next.