Doctor’s visits can be overwhelming at the best of times, but when your appointment is a long-awaited visit to a pain physician, nerves and anxiety can easily get the better of you. It’s smart to prepare for every medical appointment beforehand, but doubly so when you pain. Here’s a handy guide of the top questions to ask your pain doctor to help get you in the right frame of mind before and during your appointment:
Before Your Appointment
It’s likely your doctor or pain management specialist will have a litany of questions for you, so for the best results, come up with them in advance. Write down:
- A full description of your pain, including: location, intensity on a scale of 1 to 10, frequency and duration, onset time, sensations (i.e. what the pain feels like), triggers, pain medications you’ve tried, and anything else you’ve found that helps.
- How does the type of pain affect you? When and where does the pain start? What can you no longer do? How much does it interfere with your daily life?
- Your health otherwise: any other conditions, medications, or quality of life concerns.
- List any other health professionals you have seen before, any tests they ran (and the results), and pain treatments/medications you’ve already tried without success.
During Your Appointment
Your appointment with your pain doctor can vary in length, but it’s important to take advantage of a face-to-face meeting to get your most pressing questions answered. These questions will probably fall into one of a few different categories:
Who Is Your Doctor?
It’s perfectly appropriate to quiz your doctor on their qualifications and background before they start diagnosing you. This may depend on the type of specialist. Don’t be afraid to ask any of the following:
- How long have you been a pain doctor?
- Where did you study?
- Do you have any certifications?
- How many chronic pain patients do you treat?
- How often are you able to provide a diagnosis and/or ongoing treatment?
- Do you have an area of specialty within pain?
These questions can help you judge your doctor’s experience level and how comfortable you are with them.
What Is My Diagnosis?
These questions can help you get answers regarding the nature and cause of your pain:
- Have you been able to determine the source of my pain?
- If so, what is it, and what is the formal diagnosis? (Ask your doctor to write it down if it’s hard to remember!)
- How did you reach this diagnosis?
- Do you need to confirm the diagnosis with tests?
- Do I or you need a second opinion?
- Is there any reason this may have occurred? Is it hereditary, or connected to other health issues?
- What is the prognosis for this diagnosis?
Because some patients may not have a direct cause for their worst pain, a formal diagnosis is not always possible. Even if you don’t receive a diagnosis, though, there are still steps to take and questions you can ask to find some level of pain relief.
What Are My Treatment Options?
These questions can be tailored, so they’re applicable whether you are able to get a formal diagnosis or not:
- What are my treatment options?
- Which treatment plan works best, for whom, and why?
- How effective are the treatments for reducing my pain?
- What, if any, medications are recommended?
- Are there any side effects or risks to the recommended medications or treatments?
- How long do medications or treatment options take to work?
- Are there other options if one treatment fails to work or if I have an allergic reaction?
- Which, if any, of these treatments and medications are covered by my insurance? What are the relative costs, and are there trials or assistance programs I may be eligible for?
- Do you have a relationship with any of the drug manufacturers that make the medications we just discussed?
What Can I Do?
Not every pain condition will have treatment options or medications, and even those that do still require a lot of patient-led pain management to improve day-to-day life. It’s helpful to know the answer to the following, so you can put your best foot forward:
Are there any triggers for my pain? What should I avoid doing?
- What will help strengthen the problem area or alleviate the pain?
- Will ice, heat or other topical applications do anything?
- Are there any dietary or lifestyle changes I can make to help relieve pain?
- Are there any alternative therapies that may help?
What Can I Expect in the Future?
Lastly, it’s vital you know what to expect in the future, both from your pain management team and your body:
- What should my day-to-day expectation of pain be? Is a total cure possible?
- What are the possible future complications associated with this diagnosis?
- Will it worsen in the future, or with any large physical changes (e.g. pregnancy, aging)?
- What is our long-term goal?
- What is the follow-up plan with you and/or my family doctor?
- How often will I be seeing you?
- Who do I contact for medication issues or significant changes in my pain?
- Is there a way I can email or call you with questions or concerns?
- Is there anything else I’ve forgotten to ask or need to know?
Being properly prepared for your appointment may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Your relationship with your doctor is a partnership – you both have responsibilities and expectations from the other, so good communication is key. Write down these and any other questions you can think of, and take them into your appointment. This way, you can be sure nothing is forgotten!
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