Being a Respiratory Therapist I am on the front lines with people who are really struggling to breathe. Sometimes I am also the patient as I also have severe asthma. Being able to relate to my patients and to really know what it feels like to have that air hunger helps me have so much more empathy and compassion when treating them. One question I am asked just about every time a person is discharged from the hospital especially when they are new to a breathing difficulty is what they need to ask their doctor when they have their post-hospital follow-up appointment. I also get asked this same question when I see people in the clinic setting for Pulmonary (lung) Function Testing before they meet with their new Pulmonologist or Asthma Specialist for the first time.
What do I ask my Pulmonologist at my First Appointment?
While the following list is going to be specifically tailored to the first appointment when meeting with a new Pulmonologist or Asthma specialist, it can definitely be used for subsequent appointments as well, simply modify and use the points that pertain to you.
Generally you will want to start with your past health history. Chances are your medical record will have already been sent over from your primary doctor (but not always) and the Pulmonologist has already read over it. But he/she will still want to discuss your medical history with you so be prepared to talk about it. It’s always best coming from you vs what they read on paper in a medical chart. Go into detail as much as possible here. It’s super important.
Your list of immediate concerns
What is bothering you right now when it comes to your breathing and your asthma. Write everything down ahead of time and take your list with you. I still do this. It’s so easy to forget and having that list prevents me from walking out the office doors & kicking myself for forgetting to ask that one important question. Talk about what makes your asthma worse. Your triggers (if you have been able to pinpoint what they are or what you suspect they might be), any allergies you may have. If you are unsure if your Asthma is allergy driven definitely bring that up and discuss it as well. If you are seeing an Asthma/Allergy specialist they can perform allergy testing to help identify specific allergens and come up with a plan to combat allergic specific asthma.
Have your doctor explain your medications and why they are being given to you. Know which ones are your rescue and which ones are the controllers.
Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT’s)
If you have already had Pulmonary Function Testing (or Lung Function Testing) done prior to your appointment ask for an interpretation of the results. Don’t accept “they’re normal” or “not normal” for an answer. Ask for an explanation. It’s actually really fascinating to hear what each different part of the test tells you about your lungs and how they’re working etc. Maybe that’s just the lung nerd in me. Who knows. PFT’s are the test that is used to diagnose asthma.
Asthma Action Plan
This is so so so SO IMPORTANT!!!!
Of all the things that occur at your first appointment with your new Pulmonologist if I had to pick one to really stress the importance I would really recommend asking for an Asthma Action Plan. An asthma action plan is a paper that tells you your medications, your normal peak flow readings (if you track them) and then your doctor fills it out and it tells you EXACTLY what steps to take when your asthma starts acting up. When and how much of your rescue medication to take and when to call your doctor and when to seek medical attention. It takes the guesswork out of it so when you are struggling you can look at your plan and it’s all there.