Features December 2013 Issue

How to Talk with Your Cardiologist

These three tips should help you make the most of your appointments and get your questions answered.

Dealing with heart disease or simply trying to manage your risk factors can present an ever-changing set of challenges and questions. And one of the most important aspects of maintaining optimal heart health is a good relationship with your cardiologist.

So how do you keep the lines of communication open and make sure you’re getting your questions answered and your physician is getting all the information necessary to provide the best care possible? In his book, “The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Speaking with Your Cardiologist,” Curtis Rimmerman, MD, provides considerable advice, from choosing a cardiologist who fits your needs to learning what you should know about heart screenings, medications, interventions, etc.

Here are three tips assembled from his book to get you started on a long and healthy relationship with your cardiologist:

1. Find a cardiologist who is a good communicator. Selecting the doctor to whom you are entrusting your heart is an important decision. But you can have confidence in your choice if you’re willing to ask questions ahead of time, and if you’re willing to change doctors if you feel uncomfortable about your first choice.
Dr. Rimmerman recommends getting a list of cardiologists who have admitting privileges at your local hospital. You can then learn about their credentials and specialty interests.

After that, it’s time to start asking questions. Do any of your friends or neighbors have a cardiologist they would recommend? If so, Dr. Rimmerman suggests asking the following questions:

Is the doctor a good communicator who explains test results and other matters in an understandable manner?
Are the doctor and his or her staff responsive? If you call the office and leave a message, do you get a return call?
How difficult is it to schedule an appointment?

“Also, consider asking healthcare professionals you know whom they would go to if they had a heart problem,” Dr. Rimmerman advises.

2. Prepare well for your appointments. Once you have selected a cardiologist—and even if you’ve been seeing the same physician for years—“advanced preparation is key,” Dr. Rimmerman says, because your time and the doctor’s time are valuable. The more prepared you are for your appointment, the more the focus can be on diagnoses and treatment.

Among the information you should have ready for your first appointment is a detailed health history for yourself and your parents and siblings. “By no means should your record be confined to cardiac issues,” he adds. “Having all your medical information in one place will help no matter what health problem might show up.”

The other important information you should readily have for your appointment is a detailed description of your symptoms. Think about when symptoms started, how often they appear, and especially, what the symptoms feel like. Be ready to use clear, descriptive words. Is the pain in your chest, for example, a sharp pain, an ache, a tightness, pressure or so on?

“Only you can effectively an accurately communicate what you’re feeling,” he explains. “Interpreting your symptoms and translating them into understandable words is paramount. It’s your job to reflect upon your symptoms, perhaps discuss them with family and friends before your appointment, and develop the all-important organized initial presentation to your physician.”

3. Bring questions and prescriptions. So you have a medical history folder, a description of your symptoms, and you’re ready to talk in detail about your condition. But there are two other ways you can make the most of your appointment time.

First, bring in a list of ALL prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and supplements such as vitamins or herbal supplements like ginkgo biloba. Even better, bring in the actual pill bottles so your doctor can confirm that the medication you’re taking matches what’s on your list.

And don’t be embarrassed about mentioning herbal supplements or any medications. Because some of these items can interact with other drugs, your health depends on your doctor knowing what you take each day.

Lastly, in addition to all that information, you should also bring in a list of questions, says Dr. Rimmerman, noting that some concerns may not come up unless you raise them.

“It’s a good idea to organize your questions and concerns before your appointment,” he says. “For example, ‘I have been more short of breath recently and have noticed wheezing. Are these symptoms something I should be concerned about?’”
Prioritizing your questions is helpful if your time with the doctor is limited. And remember, some questions can be answered by a nurse, pharmacist or other healthcare professional.

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