Too often I find claimants do not understand the function of nurses and other assistants in a doctor’s office. This is especially true here in Texas where we are taught early on to be polite to others. So, when the nurse comes to the waiting room to call the patient in for his or her visit, there is always the same exchange: “Hello, Mr./Ms. Smith. How are you doing today?” The patient’s answer is usually the same: “Fine, how are you?”
Whether you realize it or not, this conversation is the first step in assessing what medical issues the doctor needs to address during the visit. In other words, the nurse is not just being polite. When you answer the question “fine” the nurse may write down, “no complaints.” The doctor reading the note may determine this is just a medication renewal visit. This is especially true if he/she is a staff physician you may have never seen before at a community clinic.
So what should you say? First, start with any unresolved problems. For example, if you have a symptom such as pain that has not been relieved by medication, you definitely want to bring that to the nurse’s attention. This would apply to other problems as well, such as continued depression, lack of sleep, or too much sleep. Second, you need to tell the nurse if you are having any side effects from your medications, such as drowsiness, nausea, lack of concentration, etc. Lastly, you should mention any other subject you wish to discuss with the doctor; for example, are there other treatment options, tests to be run, or a possible referral to a specialist?
Being this prepared may take some planning before you go. Think about how you have felt since the last visit with the doctor, not just the day of the appointment. Make notes and write down questions. Taking the time to do this is important, not only for your disability claim, but also for you to be more involved with the treatment of your medical condition. It will focus the doctor’s attention to specific concerns, but will also better document the problems you have experienced. Remember, the doctor cannot help you if he or she does not know what is going on, and that nurse calling you back is the first and best opportunity to get their attention.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.