A little prep and the right attitude and you'll get the attention & answers you need to have your best doctor's visit ever

The average person gets less than 15 minutes of face time with the doctor at each office visit. How are you going to use your precious quarter-hour? A few savvy steps can improve communication and help you get better medical care. Here's the lowdown on how to proceed.

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Finding Dr. Right: Your best medical match

A positive relationship with your doctor can make you healthier. "Patients who feel their doctor is meeting their needs are more likely to adhere to a treatment plan," says University of Iowa psychologist Alan Christensen, Ph.D., who studies doctor-patient interactions. How to choose a doctor:

  • Look for a doctor whose attitudes match your own. For example, if you're interested in complementary medicine, you'll want a doctor who is open to those therapies. If you want a lot of input in decision-making, make sure the doctor is on board with that.
  • Is the doctor good at communicating? Does he or she return phone calls or emails in a timely way?
  • Does the office staff seem helpful and friendly? These qualities can be key when you're scheduling appointments or seeking information or a call-back.
  • Do you feel respected and "heard" by this doctor?
  • If you’re seeking a doctor to treat you for a certain condition, or perform a specific type of procedure, ask about his or her experience in this area.
  • Check for board certification, which means the doctor meets national standards for education, knowledge, experience and skills to provide care in a specific medical specialty.

Before Your Doctor Visit

Create a health journal Grab a notebook and jot down the info you have about any illness, disease, injuries, hospitalizations, surgeries and allergies in your family, past and present. Include an up-to-date list of all drugs, vitamins and supplements you may be taking—including the dosages and the dosing schedule, suggests the American Academy of Family Physicians. Your journal will help you quickly give your doctor precise information about your health and any inherited health risks you may face.

Research it right Thanks to the Web, we're more informed about health topics than ever before. But it can be a fire hose of information—and inaccuracies. So be mindful of the type of sites you are choosing, says Steven Kussin, M.D., a gastroenterologist and author of the book Doctor, Your Patient Will See You Now (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011). Government sites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, MedlinePlus and the National Cancer Institute are good places to start.

Make a list You wouldn't go to the grocery store without jotting down the items you want to remember—the same should hold true for your next doctor's appointment, says Joe Graedon, co-author of Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them (Crown Archetype, 2011). Create quick bullet points, starting with your most important concerns and questions (in case you run out of time). A list can also help you broach embarrassing health topics such as constipation. "If you have them on paper, you are less likely to back down," says Dr. Kussin.

During Your Doctor Visit

Start with your top priority "Never wait to unload what's on your mind until the doctor’s hand is on the door. At that point, the doctor has moved on to thinking about the next patient and may neglect to record the important information you are telling him," says Dr. Kussin. Get as specific about symptoms as you can: Note when you experience them and how they feel.

Take notes Write down any instructions your doctor gives you, such as how, when and with what to take your medications. Record information that may help you make informed decisions later, such as different treatment options. If you can't take notes yourself, bring along a friend or family member or a recording device. In addition, pick up brochures and other educational materials that seem helpful.

Clear up confusion In one recent study, 78 percent of all patients who left the emergency room did not completely understand what was said to them—a dangerous situation. So, be sure to pipe up if you're unclear about what the doctor is saying. "If you don't say anything, your doctor will assume you understand," says Dr. Kussin. And if you need more time to discuss an issue—how to stop smoking, for instance—ask to speak with a physician's assistant or nurse.

Get a verbal confirmation A pilot wouldn't start taxiing down the runway without clearance from air-traffic control. Likewise, never leave a doctor's appointment without first verifying that she understood what you told her, says Teresa Graedon, Ph.D., co-author of Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.

After Your Doctor Visit

Go over your info Take a closer look at your notes and educational materials. "Carefully review the information once you are home—if any questions or concerns arise, don't be afraid to call your doctor's office back," says Dr. Kussin.

Follow up If you're unsure when you'll get test results, call to ask when you can expect them, so you're not sitting around waiting. Call again if you don't get results within a week. Schedule any follow-up appointments and fill prescriptions as soon as possible.

From our sister publication, REMEDY's Healthy Living, Fall 2011

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 14 Oct 2011

Last Modified: 09 Jan 2015