Come prepared to a psychiatric evaluation

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There are several paths to facilitate wellness for those with mental illness. Seeing a psychiatrist for medication is often part of the process toward improved health and well being. You do better when you're prepared for the visit.

Have you ever had the experience of leaving your doctor's office unsure of what was said or what to do? Have you ever walked out the door from your appointment remembering the list of questions you were eager to have answered, but forgot to review? Preparing for appointments is helpful regardless of whether it is for a routine or first-time visit.

The stress of experiencing symptoms and feeling unwell can cause self-advocacy to be an insurmountable task during a medical appointment. When the symptoms include a mood, or thought disorder the challenge of focusing is increased further. This "perfect storm" creates a limited ability to absorb information during the visit.

Initial psychiatric appointments are usually almost an hour, with subsequent visits lasting an average of 15 minutes. Although the time allotted for a first appointment may seem adequate, there is a lot of ground to cover. The short return visits leave minimal time for anything but the most essential exchange of information and discussion of treatment strategies. Therefore, it is important to arrive prepared to make the most of your visits.

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A family member, spouse or friend can be a great resource in assisting with the process of gathering what is needed for the actual scheduling of an appointment, preparing for the visit, and if desired, acting as a support during the visit itself. It is not unusual for it to take a matter of weeks or months to get into a psychiatrist's office for the first time. In clinic settings, people are often scheduled to see a therapist before getting an appointment with a psychiatrist. The same preparation is useful regardless of whether your first visit is with a psychiatrist or a therapist.

Reviewing your insurance with the receptionist at the time of scheduling helps to assure your insurance is accepted. If an interpreter is needed, inform the office at this time so they will be sure to have one available. Knowing directions to the office well in advance, prevents anxiety and mishaps causing one to be late. Time restrictions often result in doctors canceling appointments when someone is late, and rescheduling sometimes takes several weeks, if not longer.

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Information sent from one's primary care doctor to the psychiatrist prior to the appointment, including most recent lab work, is useful. Too often doctors do not to have the time to review the information before you enter the office, but at least he/she will refer to it during the visit. Bring a complete list of medication to the first appointment and updates regarding medication changes to subsequent visits. If listing your medication list is too difficult, bring in the medication bottles themselves, even if they're empty.

Writing notes before the appointment describing symptoms as experienced by you, or as noticed by others, provides valuable information. Appetite and weight changes, along with changes in sleep patterns are important to note. Any significant stress or substance use including cigarettes, alcohol, illicit drugs and over the counter artificial marijuana products or others is important to include in that they can play a part in contributing to your symptoms. A family history of those with similar problems to yours and what medications or treatments they found beneficial is helpful. List the improvements you hope to see in your health.

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Upon arriving for your psychiatry visit, have a copy of documents you've prepared for the doctor, while keeping the original for yourself. The doctor then has it to refer to during the visit, and for later visits as well.

Bring a pad and pen to take notes. Doctors commonly jot things down on paper or type into a computer during a visit so as not to forget important information. This is a good practice for you, as well. To assure understanding, review the key points and medication directions at the end of the visit.

Good preparation helps to make the most of your psychiatry visits. This article provides a brief outline of the highlights. More in depth information can be obtained online through various websites including National Empowerment Center, and the Mayo Clinic.

Carolyn Sacco, RN has worked as a nurse in psychiatry since 1985, in inpatient hospital, outpatient clinic, and home settings. Jeffrey Geller, MD. MPH is professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He also treats in- and outpatients.


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