For Your Patients: Getting the Most From Heart Failure Office Visits

— A brief overview of what to expect and tips for how to prepare for and benefit from your medical appointments

Illustration of a hand holding a stethoscope over a heart in failure
Key Points

Medical appointments with your cardiologist and other members of the care team help you on the way to maximizing your health through your journey with heart failure. Make the most of these visits by doing a little preparation before you go.

For your initial visit, you will need to fill out forms that ask about symptoms, current medications, medical procedures you have had in the past, and any health conditions that you have been diagnosed with by a physician. Writing down in advance a list of symptoms and all your current medications, including supplements, will help with this process.

For follow-up visits, think about what you'd like to get out of the visit: Do you need to tell your physician about changes in your health since you last saw her or ask questions about a medication? Has your treatment regimen changed for another chronic health condition? Note down these goals, symptoms, and questions to make sure they are addressed in the office.

You may consider discussing this information with a close family member or anyone who is supporting you on your medical journey so they can help you remember anything that might be missing from your list.

On the Day of the Visit

Try to allow plenty of time so you can arrive before your appointment. You will feel less stress and anxiety, which keeps your blood pressure closer to what it would normally be; also, checking in and completing any necessary paperwork on time will maximize your time with the clinician.

You may be asked uncomfortable questions, like how often you miss a medication dose. But be honest about how often and at what dose you're actually taking the medication prescribed. The point of your visit is to get care that will help you. So even if you think your answer isn't what the doctor may want to hear, it's important to provide an accurate picture without leaving out details, minimizing your symptoms, or avoiding talking about poor health habits. With the full picture, you can work together to find ways around any obstacles.

When the physician provides information about your diagnosis or what to expect with your condition, make sure you understand what she says. Ask questions until it's clear, and consider taking notes to refer to later.

When you discuss treatment, ask about what your options are. If any tests or diagnostics are recommended, find out what their answers will contribute to your care plan and what the next step would be. Make note of any practical steps you can take, such as blood pressure checks or a diet and exercise plan. Weight monitoring is often recommended. Consider reporting any sudden changes (over 1-2 days) in weight to your doctor. Ask what other changes in your condition should prompt a call to the office or more urgent medical attention.

After the Visit

Before you leave the office, check with the staff about making any follow-up visits. If possible, pick up prescriptions right away.

When you return home, look over your notes and any materials provided. Did you need to schedule further appointments with other medical providers or get blood tests or imaging scans? Consider writing reminders or putting a note in your calendar to contact those offices during business hours. Make a plan to implement any needed changes in diet or other habits and talk with a trusted friend or those in your household to get support to start making those changes.

Keep an eye out for any concerning changes in your condition, and act quickly to contact your care team or seek urgent medical attention in case of an emergency.

Read previous installments in this series:

For Your Patients: What is Heart Failure?

For Your Patients: How Is Heart Failure Diagnosed?

"Medical Journeys" is a set of clinical resources reviewed by doctors, meant for physicians and other healthcare professionals as well as the patients they serve. Each episode of this 12-part journey through a disease state contains both a physician guide and a downloadable/printable patient resource. "Medical Journeys" chart a path each step of the way for physicians and patients and provide continual resources and support, as the caregiver team navigates the course of a disease.