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Making the Most of Your Doctor's Visit

Making the Most of Your Doctor's Visit

Research has shown that on average you have about 7-16 minutes to talk with your doctor, so it's critical that you make each minute count. From pre-appointment preparation, to post-appointment follow-up, there are things everyone can do to foster their relationship with their healthcare providers and ensure they are an active and informed player on the healthcare team.
Prepare for your appointment. Beforehand, take the time to write a few things down. These include: any symptoms or changes in your body, mood, appetite, sleep, and libido and when you first noticed them. It's especially important to pay attention to symptoms like headaches, weight changes, swallowing difficulties, abdominal pain, changes in coordination, and memory loss as these could be signs of more serious conditions. Additionally, note any pain that has developed, and recent changes in your life including stressors, diet, and exercise routines. Write down all medications that you are taking, including over the counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Write down any questions or concerns you have. Prioritize your concerns so you make sure the most important issues are addressed. When you leave for your appointment, make sure you have your insurance card, a few pieces of blank paper, and a pen so you can write down your answers and take notes on your discussion with your doctor to review later. It may also be helpful to talk with close friends and family about your health concerns, as it may increase your comfort in discussing them with your physician. Lastly, knowing the routine of your doctor's office can help you make their system work for you-if you know the office breaks for lunch at 12:00pm sharp, you may want to reconsider that 11:45 appointment time!
Play an active role in your appointment. Communicate information regarding your symptoms, medications, etc. that you prepared ahead of time. Remember that honesty is the best policy. Your doctor can not help you if s/he doesn't know all the facts; like that you only take your blood pressure medication when you feel bad, or that you've started smoking again. Ask for clarification if you need it, and take notes.
In general, you should leave your appointment knowing:
* Your diagnosis
* How serious your condition is
* Any tests you might need
* Your treatment options
* Any medications prescribed
* If a second opinion would be helpful
If medications are prescribed, you should also know its name and why it was prescribed, exactly how, when, and how often you should take it, as well as any side effects to look for and any possible drug interactions with other medications, vitamins, or supplements you currently take. If further tests are recommended, ask how to prepare for them, how soon results will be available and the best way to find out your results, as well as any out-of-pocket costs that insurance may not cover. If you are choosing from a variety of treatment options, make sure you have a clear picture of the benefits, risks, and side effects of each option. It may also be helpful to know which treatment is most common for your condition, and what your options are if the first treatment does not work. Before the visit is over, check to see if you should make a follow-up appointment or should look for any specific danger signs that might indicate a more serious problem. When you're leaving the office, tell your physician's staff something they've done well and thank them. Everyone likes to know when he or she has done a good job. Showing your appreciation can help you stand out as a "star patient."
Don't stop being a patient when you leave the office. Look over your notes from your visit, and do your research. It will be helpful to learn everything you can about your medical conditions, especially if you are deciding between several treatment options. Plan some next steps and talk with family and friends. Research shows that anxious patients forget about 93% of what their doctor says to them. If you think of any new questions, need clarification, or forgot to ask something from your list, call your doctor's office. Be patient but firm if you want to speak directly to your doctor as he may not be able to take your call at that moment. Also consider getting a second opinion which may provide some needed reassurance or help with your decisions. A good doctor will be supportive of your search.

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