An average visit with your doctor lasts about 15 minutes. The key to making the most of these precious few minutes lies in preparation. You will make a few short minutes as productive as possible, when you take steps to plan in advance. The payoff from sound preparation will be both to your health and your pocketbook. When you participate actively in the health care process, your chances of receiving the most appropriate medical care increases dramatically. Active participation includes providing all the necessary information to the doctor, as well as asking informed questions. A doctor’s ability to diagnose a medical condition correctly depends in large part on the description of symptoms and other information the patient provides.
Receiving appropriate care is not only good for your health, but it is cost effective, too. You avoid unnecessary procedures and piecemeal care, such as additional office visits and telephone consultations based on neglected questions and missing information. Here are some tips for making your doctor visit most productive:
- Know your medical history, including occurrences and dates of illnesses, hospitalizations, and surgeries.
- Know your family medical history. To some degree, determining appropriate care is based not only on your health, but on your blood-relation’s health as well. For instance, typically recommended schedules for screenings for certain types of cancers might be appropriate for an individual with occurrences of the cancer in his or her family.
- Make a list of all medications you currently take, including dosages. Be sure to include over-the-counter medications taken on a regular basis (a point that becomes more important with a growing number of formerly prescription drugs moving to over-the-counter dispensing). You increase your chances of an adverse drug reaction if a prescribing physician is not fully aware of each and every medication you take. And, according to information published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, adverse drug interactions result in 100,000 deaths yearly, and are the fourth leading cause of death, ahead of pulmonary disease, diabetes, AIDS, pneumonia, accidents, and automobile deaths.
- Do some research regarding the reason for your visit. For example, suppose you schedule a doctor’s visit for your child, who has developed symptoms consistent with asthma. Researching the condition will familiarize you with some of the terminology essential to an understanding of asthma. Then, if the doctor uses these terms during the office visit, you will be farther along on the learning curve for the condition than you would have been if hearing them for the very first time.
- In assessing the reliability of information you gather through your research, consider the source. This is always good advice but particularly so in the case of the Internet, where information can easily be posted without fact-checking or other means of accuracy assurance. Information on sites maintained by organizations or facilities in the health care field, nonprofits dedicated to specific diseases, or government agencies inherently carry a level of trustworthiness and are a good place to begin Web-based research.
- Prepare a list of questions for your visit. Many people become more anxious than usual when seeing a doctor. This anxiety, together with the time pressure frequently felt in the doctor’s office, makes it easy to forget questions you planned to ask.
- During your visit, if the physician uses terminology unfamiliar to you, be sure to ask questions. Bring a notepad with you, and ask for the correct spelling of the term, write it down, and look it up when you get home, as a check on your understanding of what the doctor has said. If you think the doctor might present confusing information, consider asking a close friend or relative to come along and listen to what the doctor has to say.
- Also during the visit, take notes covering the important aspects of what the doctor says, especially instructions involving scheduling of tests and follow-up appointments, dosages, and durations of new medications, and changes and/or limitations on activities or other lifestyle issues. Here again, a close friend or relative to serve as an extra set of ears could be helpful.
Although preparing for a doctor’s visit involves some work, consider the time a well-spent investment in your health — and in your health care dollars.