This week, I want to take a break from our series on cardiac disorders and turn to a more general and practical discussion of how you can get can the most out of a cardiology consultation. Let’s assume you’ve made an appointment to see a new cardiologist—perhaps you’ve been having chest pain. Or shortness of breath. Or palpitations. Or you have had a cardiologist previously and recently moved to a new city, so you need to establish care with a new cardiologist there. You’ve waited several weeks for an opening and now your appointment is coming up. What should you bring to that appointment so that you make the best use of your time and money?
First of all, bring a list of your medications and their dosages. Not only will that help your doctor decide what changes may need to be made, but your doctor can use your medication list as a clue about your current medical conditions.
Second, know the reason you are making your visit. It may be disappointing to hear this, but referrals sometimes get lost in the shuffle of paperwork and electronic transfers, so your cardiologist might not have received records from your referring doctor as to why he or she wanted you to have a cardiac evaluation.
If you initiated the consultation yourself, be prepared to tell the cardiologist what your concerns are. Is the visit for a general cardiac check? If so, what made you concerned about your heart? Are there particular symptoms you are worried about? How long have they been going on? How long do they last? How frequently do they occur? What situations bring them on and what helps them go away? If it is pain you are experiencing, what is the quality—is it sharp? Pressure-like? Burning? Achy? Where is it located? Does it radiate anywhere? Is it tender? Are there other symptoms that accompany the primary one?
Finally—if you have a history of heart problems—bring records that document those. That can include notes from your most recent visit with your previous cardiologist. Copies of stress tests and echocardiograms are helpful. If you have had a cardiac catheterization, that report is extremely valuable to your new cardiologist. Some people get cards that indicate what “hardware” they have in them—a stent, a pacemaker, a defibrillator, etc. If you don’t have reports of procedures, write down what hospitals they were done at—then your doctor can request the records from those institutions.
It would be nice if your cardiologist was a mind reader, or if doctors had easy access to all your records. But the reality is that your doctor will only know what you can tell her—or what information you have that will allow him to obtain records of previous medical care. So, the more details you can provide, the better care your cardiologist will be able to give to you.
And one last thing—bring a family member or friend with you. It’s always helpful to have a second pair of ears!
Greg Koshkarian, MD, FACC