What Should I Bring To The Doctor? A Symptom Journal Can Help You Hack Your Next Appointment

I think most of us can agree visiting the doctor can be a stressful task. Between scheduling an appointment, handling co-pays or other fees, sitting in a crowded waiting room, and coping with ongoing health issues, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Which, in turn, can make it more difficult to have a productive appointment, or may make you unintentionally leave out important information for your doc. Fortunately, there's one super easy thing you can do before every doctor's appointment to make sure it's as productive as possible. A symptom journal, aka symptom diary, is a way to log symptoms, health issues, daily activities, and changes to your emotional or physical health. It’s no brainer that keeping a symptom journal for your personal use can help you be more aware of your wellness, but here’s why you should be bringing it with you to every doctor’s appointment.

Your doc can’t monitor you around the clock, so keeping a record of the symptoms you are experiencing can help ensure you’re not unintentionally leaving out important information. “Patients will often forget important details while at their appointment. More information is helpful for the physician and for a productive visit, and having it written down helps minimize any forgetting. As an objective observer the physician can often look at symptoms and correlate them to something in the patient’s lifestyle or environment,” Dr. Amber Tully, a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, tells Bustle.

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Additionally, sharing a symptom journal with your physician may help them better understand what is triggering or causing your symptoms, and what the next step to take in your treatment is. “The presence of a symptom, or timing of a symptom can make a big difference in determining what might be wrong or what other studies are needed. In some areas (like mental health), the duration, severity, or timing of symptoms in relation to other events can be important to know,” says Dr. William Gabrielli Jr, Chairman of the Psychiatry Department at the University of Kansas Health System, He adds that as a primary care doctor and psychiatrist, symptom journals allow him to “think more globally about causes and interacting causes of symptoms of more complex problems.”

Moreover, Dr. Tully says, “I also find photos very helpful if patients are coming in concerned about a rash, wound, bruise or skin finding that may be changing over time and look different once the patient is in the office.” So, if your medical concern is a physical injury, it may be a good idea to keep a photo journal of sorts, in addition to a written log.

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Symptom journals can be a great tool for doctors who are trying to determine the best way to treat their patients. But, keeping a symptom journal is just as beneficial to the patient; it allows you to have deeper insight into and awareness about your health. “[A symptom journal] helps to look over a patient’s symptoms, and identify aspects of the patient’s lifestyle or environment that could be triggering symptoms,” Dr. Tully explains. “It makes it much easier to see if there is a pattern to the symptoms the patient is experiencing. It can also help the patient and physician see that sometimes symptoms are actually less frequent than they may realize.”

Of course, you can always use regular notebook to pen down your daily symptoms and health concerns, but, there are apps available like Symple that allow you to keep a digital diary if that’s your preferred method. Whether you’re starting a new medication, dealing with a chronic illness, or new symptoms, a symptom journal is a amazing tool to help you and your physician work together to find the best course of healthcare for you.