Six Ways to be a Great Heart Patient

Are you getting as much from your doctor’s visits as you could be? Interventional cardiologist Dr. Heather Shenkman offers tips to help heart disease patients show up prepared, stay focused during the appointment, and take charge of their own healing.

If you suffer from heart disease, it is essential that you enlist the watchful eye of your cardiologist from time to time. But much of your success as a patient depends on you. Keep reading for her tips to help you get organized, engaged, and inspired so you can get the most benefit from your physician’s guidance.

“Your goal should be to work with your doctor to keep a two-way channel of communication going,” concludes Dr. Shenkman. “Your cardiologist can guide you toward healing, but it is ultimately up to you to show up for your appointments, communicate effectively, keep in touch, and keep your chin up on your journey to better health. The better a patient you can be, the better your care team can help you achieve your health goals.”

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Arrive on time.

It is so important that you show up on time to your doctor’s appointment. If it is a first visit, you may be asked to come in early to fill out paperwork. Being prompt will help ensure that you are calm and relaxed for your visit; further, your doctor will be less rushed and can take the appropriate amount of time to speak with and properly treat you.

Get prepared for your visit.

Know your history before you head to the doctor’s office. This is particularly important if this is your first visit to a new cardiologist. The office can get records, but it’s also important that you establish a written record of not only your medical history, but also your family history as well as medications you have taken in the past up until now. Before your visit, jot down any notes you can remember in a notebook or on your smartphone. Carry this information with you each time you visit your cardiologist or any other physician.

Know your medications.

Keep a list of medications and doses with you so you will be sure to give your cardiologist the correct information. Don’t rely on your memory! It’s also helpful to grab your pill bottles—even if there are a lot of them—and bring them to the appointment. Another strategy: Snap a photo of your medications with your smartphone to show your doctor.

Stay focused during your visit.

Listen closely, take notes if you feel you need to, and make sure you understand what your doctor tells you.

“Even if you are stressed, confused, or upset due to receiving bad news, it is very important to stay focused during your appointment,” says Dr. Shenkman. “If you do not understand something that has been said, don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify.”

Follow up without fear.

Sometimes after a visit questions can arise, and you should feel free to follow up. You may not completely understand the instructions you were given. A new medication may be causing you to feel unwell. You may experience a new symptom. Or, you may be having difficulty in scheduling a test that was ordered by your doctor. Dr. Shenkman says any of these would be appropriate reasons to call your doctor’s office.

Take ownership of your health.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of being proactive in your role as a heart disease patient,” says Dr. Shenkman. “Doctors, including your cardiologist, are here to help you on your health journey, but you are ultimately responsible for your own care. Don’t think that by seeing a doctor once a year, you’ve ‘done your part.’ We can’t fix your heart disease if you don’t follow our advice and actively comply by improving your lifestyle per our instructions.”


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