Switch On Your HIV Smarts.

Tips and Tools for Keeping Up With Medical Appointments

, by Reilly O'Neal

HandReminderKeeping up with regular medical visits is a key part of managing HIV and living well with the virus. In fact, a study reported in the August 2013 issue of AIDS Patient Care and STDs links missed appointments with increased mortality in the first year of HIV care.

It’s not always easy to make it to the doctor’s office or clinic. Time constraints, scheduling snags, and transportation and family-care issues can cause missed appointments. Less-than-stellar patient-provider relationships and communication can also pose major barriers to keeping a date with your doc.

So what can you do about it?

Here are a handful of strategies that can help you keep on top of your medical visits by addressing challenges that might otherwise get in the way.

Find the Right Provider—and Build the Right Relationship

Better patient-provider relationships and communication are linked with (not surprisingly) fewer missed medical visits. Finding a medical team that is a good fit for you—and learning ways to communicate your needs and priorities with that team—can go a long way toward helping you keep up with regular medical appointments and get the care you need to stay healthy. These resources can get you started.

  • Checklist: My Ideal Provider: Use this list to identify what is important to you: Where and what kind of practice will feel safest and most convenient, and what kind of personality, background, and training do you want in your clinician?
  • Making the Most of Your Medical Visits: Learn strategies (from a practicing physician!) for communicating with your provider and getting the care you need.
  • Tips for Talking with Your Doctor: Four things you can do to boost communication and get more from your medical appointments.
  • “Talking Points” Checklist: This interactive questionnaire can help you keep track of questions and issues to raise at your next medical visit.

Make Time for Medical Care

Taking time out from work, school, and/or caring for children or others can be a challenge. It helps to build a support network of people who can stop by to care for family members (while you take care of yourself), take turns driving to appointments, and even accompany you right into your doc’s office if you like. These tips can also help you fit medical visits into your busy schedule.

  • Find out whether your medical practice offers evening or weekend appointments. Larger practices, in particular, may have appointment options outside of business hours that could better fit your schedule.
  • Book your provider’s first appointment of the day, before any delays have knocked the schedule for a loop. You’ll be less likely to spend precious time in a packed waiting room.
  • When you schedule your next visit, request a “firm” appointment rather than a time slot shared with other patients. If a firm appointment isn’t an option, try to arrive 15 minutes early to help ensure you’ll be seen closer to your scheduled time.
  • To make the most of your limited time with your doc (and help keep appointments from running longer than you’d like), bring a list of the concerns you want to address, any new or troubling symptoms, and questions you need answered. You can even give your provider a heads-up: Email or fax the list to your medical office ahead of time, or give a copy to the front desk staff when you arrive.

Jog Your Memory

With so many other things demanding your attention, it’s easy to forget an appointment. In addition to keeping a calendar handy, whether digital or on paper, these tips can help keep medical visits from slipping your mind.

  • Sign up for phone, text, or email appointment reminders if your doc’s practice offers them (and if you’re comfortable receiving these messages at home, work, school, etc.). A quick reminder the night before can be the difference between a missed visit and an appointment you keep.
  • If your provider’s office gives out appointment cards, stash yours someplace where it will trigger your memory regularly—in your wallet, on the fridge door, or next to your daily medications, perhaps.
  • Got a “buddy” who attends appointments with you or drives you to your medical office? Get your next visit on his or her calendar and ask for a friendly reminder when your appointment is approaching.

Whether you are new to HIV care or have years of experience, regular medical visits are a vital part of taking good care of your health. Take advantage of these tips and tools for keeping up with appointments, and feel free to share your own strategies in the comments below.

Reilly O’Neal is a freelance writer and former editor of BETA.


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