Going to doctor’s appointments alone can be frightening and overwhelming. Bringing a loved one with you to the appointment can often reduce that stress and help you get the most out of the appointment. There can be friends and family who just are not the right match for this task though, so you want to think about who you ask to accompany you. It may help both you and your loved ones’ peace of mind for you to designate one or two people to help you in this way.
Why bring someone along to the doctor’s office?
Seeing doctors, especially when you have a new or complicated condition, can be very stressful. There is sometimes a lot of information shared in these appointments and it is relatively easy to be overwhelmed or miss one or two details. This is especially true if you don’t have much prior experience with medical environments.
Having a friendly face with you can make difficult information easier to receive, and increase your confidence in your conversation.
If you are nervous about simply being in a medical space, having somebody with more experience can help normalize things for you and help you feel safer in the process.
Your loved one also can remind you if you forget any details that you meant to share or questions that you wanted to ask.
They also might have their own questions that come up when the doctor’s talking – an insight or observation that helps you better understand what is happening.
Two heads are often better than one in this situation, and having a loved one with you can make the whole process easier.
Who to bring
It is really important that this loved one is supportive.
If you think they are going to make the appointment harder for you, such as
- not letting you speak/consistently speaking for you
- disrupting the appointment(hysterics, taking the doctor’s focus, or otherwise taking the focus off you)
- disrupting your focus(being in a needy position where you need to worry about them, interrupting you mid-thought)
When you have options, try to bring somebody who will balance out your weaknesses.
If you are not used to going to doctors, for example, it is especially helpful to bring somebody with more medical knowledge or experience. Simply being comfortable around the process and expectations of seeing a doctor.
If you think you might feel shy or quiet when you see the doctor, try to bring somebody who will speak up and make sure your information is communicated clearly.
If you tend to be very talkative, you may want to bring somebody who can help you stay focused on the important details.
If you tend to be anxious, bring somebody who may be a calming influence.
Think about the type of support you need, and ask the person who best fits those needs to help you. This can be a powerful way for a friend to help you with your condition.
Personal experiences with having a loved one with me
When my Functional Neurological Disorder(FND) first started, my father would accompany to many of my appointments. He was a very calm and patient person, and his presence would help soothe my anxiety when waiting to be seen. I am not a shy person, so telling the doctors what was happening was a non-issue for me, but I really appreciated having him there to help remember the details and share his observations with the doctor.
After he passed away, my mother tried to accompany me, but I quickly discovered that her anxiety about my situation often led me to spend my energy comforting her instead of being able to focus on my needs. I quickly realized that her coming with me to appointments wasn’t a great option, and so had to figure out how to tactfully not bring her with me to appointments while still having her understand that I appreciated her efforts to support me.
Instead, I had my partner at the time accompany me. His personality was more similar to my father’s. However, he was employed full time, so I often found myself going to appointments alone or recruiting specific other friends to go with me, depending on the nature of the appointment.
I always go with Al to his significant doctor appointments, and he usually goes with me to mine. Since I don’t drive, he is my transportation to those appointments, and I like having his calming presence. He also sometimes has observations and insights on my symptoms or behavior that I didn’t recognize.
I accompany him to his appointments as I am much more familiar and comfortable with doctor’s offices in general(his family has never done the regular checkups thing), and I am very willing to push the doctors to make sure he is getting the most out of each appointment.
Al tends to understate things a bit and his memory was very unreliable after his brain injury. When we were seeking treatment post-brain injury it was essential for me to be with him for each appointment as he couldn’t reliably share his symptoms with his doctor, nor could he reliably remember what the doctor said.
This time around, his memory is less affected, but he feels better having me with him, and I tend to leave the office with a very clear idea of next steps to take, even if he didn’t process all the details.
What are the loved one’s job or responsibilities?
Your loved one should have a reasonable understanding of your condition. You should share what you know with them before each appointment. You also should share any concerns you have with them.
This helps them know what the priorities for the appointment are, so they know what needs to be asked and shared. Let them know what your fears or concerns are.
It may be that you have never been to the area where the office is, or that you are afraid this appointment will reveal something frightening, or that you don’t know if you feel comfortable with this particular doctor.
Share your concerns with your loved one, so that they can ease your fears, defend your rights(advocate), or otherwise help make the appointment as low-stress as possible.
If you think it will help you, plan to travel with them to the appointment. This way, there’s no concern about them not being there when you need them, and they can help you stay calm or distracted when you are in transit to the appointment.
A big part of this job is being moral support and helping to make your appointment easier and more productive.
Ask them to bring their own notebook and writing implement with them. Part of their responsibility is to take notes too, which decreases the chance of missing anything the doctor shares.
They are also going to be your backup. If you forget to ask something, they make sure to ask. When the doctor talks, they take notes too. If you forget to share an important piece of information, they make sure it gets shared.
Is it okay to go to an appointment alone?
Of course, it is! There are times where it can’t be helped, and there are times when having company just is unnecessary. For reoccurring appointments, like PT, I focus on being there for Al’s initial appointment, the final appointment, and possibly a milestone appointment in between. Otherwise, he just goes to his PT appointments when he has them.
I sometimes have a ‘check in’ type appointments or physical therapy appointments myself that I just don’t need company for. As an example, unless I am having a severe symptom shift, I am not concerned about having Al accompany me to see my neurologist.
Al did accompany me to my initial appointment, as I like knowing his impressions of the doctor. I always want company when I see a doctor for the first time, as I have had some really unpleasant experiences. Al also just drops me off and picks me up for my PT and talk therapy appointments.
It is often better to go to an appointment alone than it is to go with somebody who isn’t really able to support you. I pretty quickly decided that having my mother along for appointments was counterproductive for me, so I stopped asking her to help me in that way. I sometimes found friends to accompany me, and sometimes I went alone.
I had a really good rapport with my first neurologist, and so I was very happy to see him alone – our conversations would often be more like colleagues than doctor-patient, once I better understood my diagnosis.
If you feel like you don’t have anybody to accompany you, or your current network of friends and family don’t seem equipped to help, then going on your own may be your best and only option. In that case, just do as much preparation as possible and make sure you have a list to help you cover all your topics of interest.
Conclusion: bringing loved ones to doctor’s appointments
Having a close family member or friend with you when you go to your doctor’s appointments can often be very helpful. They can help you feel safer and more comfortable at the appointments, assist you with your needs, and make sure that both you and your doctor know all the necessary information.
You want a person who can empathize, listen and help you maintain your physical and emotional balance when you see your doctor, and who is willing and able to stay with you through your appointment.
Be selective in who you ask to accompany you, as it is possible to be better off going to your appointments alone.
If you have previous experience with this situation, I would love to hear your experiences! Who has accompanied you to your appointments? What was your experience like? I always want to make sure I’m sharing the best possible information with you, my readers, and I would love to hear your stories!