One of the most common concerns you’ll hear about healthcare is that people feel that their doctor’s appointments are rushed and they don’t get enough time to ask questions. With the addition of millions of newly insured Americans, doctors’ schedules are getting even tighter, with appointments lasting an average of just seven to 12 minutes. But, with a little preparation, you can make the most of your appointment and get the answers you need.
- Don’t just listen, speak up. At the start of your appointment, tell your doctor your goals for the visit and any problems or concerns you want to discuss. For example, if you’ve been short of breath or your blood sugar readings have gone up, start the conversation by describing the problem and asking what could be causing these issues. Start with your most important issues so your doctor can focus on discussing those without the time pressures he or she may feel at the end of an appointment.
- Be honest and provide details. Your doctor needs complete and accurate information to evaluate and treat your medical condition. Tell your doctor about your current symptoms and any past illnesses and hospitalizations. It’s important to be completely honest, so if you’re still smoking occasionally or don’t exercise often, your doctor needs to know. If you’ve scheduled the appointment because of a new health problem, describe all your symptoms, what triggers them, and what provides relief.
- Provide an up-to-date list of all your medications and supplements. This is especially important if you see more than one doctor. Your cardiologist may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication, and if your primary care physician doesn’t know that, he or she may prescribe a similar medication or a medication that interacts with other drugs you take. Don’t forget to list any over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements, because these can interact with medications as well. If you’ve had an adverse reaction to any medication in the past, let your doctor know.
- Keep your doctor informed about your travel plans. Although Ebola has gotten the most attention in the press, there are a number of health problems you can be exposed to while traveling, like measles, polio and insect-borne illnesses. Tell your doctor about recent trips you have taken, because this information may be relevant to symptoms you’re experiencing. If you’re planning a trip, ask what immunizations you need and if there are any precautions you should take if you have a chronic condition like diabetes or asthma.
- Discuss your treatment goals. There is more than one way to treat most illnesses. Let your doctor know how aggressive or conservative you want to be in your treatment. If you have concerns about the treatment plan proposed, share them with the doctor and ask about alternative treatment approaches.
- Make sure you understand what your doctor is saying. If you don’t understand something your doctor says, ask him or her to explain it to you in plain English. Ask about the risks and benefits of any proposed treatments and possible side effects or interactions of any medications prescribed.
- If the diagnosis is serious, get a second opinion. If your doctor diagnoses you with a serious health problem or suggests surgery, let him or her know you want a second opinion before proceeding with treatment. Most doctors welcome a second opinion. You can also ask your doctor for recommendations about which physician to consult for a second opinion.
By following these six tips, you can get the greatest benefit out of every visit with your doctor.