Why You Need to Take a Notebook to Your Next Psychiatry Appointment…

October 23, 2018 11:10 pm

Most people I’ve encountered who have bipolar disorder say they want to learn more about the disorder, and many of them are willing to come to therapy to do just that.

What most of them don’t realise is there’s a bounty of information available to them at no extra cost . . . they just never use it.  That source of information is your psychiatrist and chances are you’re not using him or her to their fullest abilities.

It drives me crazy when I ask people if they ever ask their doctors questions about bipolar disorder and they say “What do you mean?” or “Yes, but I didn’t want to bother him because he was really busy.”  My first reaction when I hear that is that it is a huge mistake. When you go to see your doctor, you should ask a lot of questions.

That’s why you should always take a notebook with you to your appointments so you can write down all of your questions in advance and jot down the answers your doctor gives.

There are two major benefits of doing this:

  1. You will gain knowledge over time. Even if you only have two questions a visit, you will have 24 answers in just one year and that’s 24 things that you didn’t know before. Eventually, you will become an expert on bipolar disorder, which you must become in order to master your illness!
  2. You will get better treatment. Your doctor is relying on your feedback about your symptoms to target and tweak your medication to its maximum effectiveness.  If you aren’t providing this feedback you run the risk of not being under or over medicated.  Also when doctors aren’t kept on their toes by their patients, they start to get complacent. That’s why 95% of patients receive treatment in the same way, through an assembly line. By asking questions, being informed, and showing an interest in your disorder, you put yourself in that 5% category with other patients who are receiving great care.

Besides these two benefits, forcing yourself to come up with several questions before a doctor’s visit will also help you realise what you still need to know about bipolar disorder so you can always be focusing on getting the information that you need. 

There is always more to learn and you must become the expert on you!

In his article “New Models of Psychiatrist-Patient Relationships,” Kevin Turnquist, lists some behaviours that make your treatment less effective, for example:

  • Wanting to chat instead of talking about important things that need to be covered.
  • Saving the most important topics for the end of the appointment, when there isn’t enough time to discuss them.
  • Not providing enough information to find effective solutions to complex problems.
  • Asking for advice, then neglecting to follow it such as not taking medications as prescribed.

He also has some advice on some simple things that consumers of psychiatric services can do to improve their care:

  • Before you see a psychiatrist give some thought to defining the problem that you want help with.
  • Don’t expect the doctor to magically understand your problem. You’ll probably be disappointed in the care that you receive if you do.
  • If you’re starting with a new psychiatrist try to have records available from prior treatments. If possible have them sent to the psychiatrist’s office in advance.
  • Bring a list of current medications and dosages. Include non psychiatric medicines, over the counter drugs, and herbal supplements.
  • Be as honest as possible about your medication compliance. Being dishonest about how often you’re not actually taking the medications can easily lead the doctor to conclude that you need more medicine than he is already prescribing. A good doctor-patient relationship should be built upon openness and honesty, from both sides.
  • Learn as much as possible about the disorder that you (or your loved ones) suffer from. Information about the various mental disorders and medications used to treat them is widely available on the Internet now. It makes good sense to become as much of an expert on your own condition as possible.

If you’re worried about “bothering” the doctor, don’t be. He or she is not giving up their time for free to answer your questions. They are being well-paid for their services. Even if you are only paying a $30 co-payment, your insurance is paying the rest. Even if you are going to a doctor who doesn’t charge you anything or who is using a sliding scale free system, they are receiving compensation for their work. And that work includes answering any and all of their patients’ questions.

Furthermore, most of the good doctors that I have talked to about bipolar disorder always seem to tell me the same thing: “I would really love it if all my patients were serious about learning about this disorder and would ask me questions.” Not only is answering those questions part of their job, but it’s also something good doctors want you to do!

If you are mood charting (and you should be) make sure you take this very important tool along with you to every session and share your mood data with them. Talk about what you have noticed and any side effects that have come into play since your last session.  Show them your chart at every session.

So go buy yourself an inexpensive notebook, write down some of your questions, and take them with you to ask your doctor during the next visit.

Read Kevin’s Full Article here:

New Models of Psychiatrist- Patient Relationships

by Kevin Turnquist, M.D.