Fifteen minutes. Except for unusual or complicated cases, that’s about how much time I, and most doctors, get to spend with patients during an average appointment. The upside is that I can actually see, treat and help many people in a typical day. But it also means that both doctor and patient need to be as efficient as possible to get the most out of that precious quarter-hour.
You can help me. If you come prepared for the visit, we can both do a better job. Here’s how:
Before Your Doctor’s Visit: Gather the Facts
Be ready with the details of your current medications, recent test results and your medical history.
Let’s start with medications. Make a list of prescription drugs as well as any over-the-counter medicines or herbal medications you may have been taking. Here’s a tip: If it’s too much trouble to write down all the names and dosages, just sweep your whole array of medicine bottles into a plastic bag and bring them with you.
Next, be sure to bring copies of your latest X-ray or MRI reports or any other test results, including reports from specialists you’ve seen. Include the specialists’ contact information— phone numbers, e-mail addresses and so forth. As a doctor treating you, I want to be sure that any treatment I provide works with, and not against, what your other doctors are recommending.
Get your history straight—your medical history and your family’s. Your doctor needs to know about any previous hospitalizations, as well as old or current medical problems, even if they are not the reason you are going to the doctor this time.
Genetics matter too. Gather information on the medical background of every member of your family. (For more on how to create a family tree on medical conditions, click here.)
If you have diabetes: Record your daily blood-sugar measurement and bring along your log.
Finally, if you have high blood pressure: Get a series of readings at home during the week prior to your visit so your doctor can gauge whether your numbers have spiked just because you are in a busy medical clinic—a phenomenon known as “white coat hypertension.”
Prior to the Visit: Prepare Yourself
Call your doctor’s office a day or two before your scheduled visit to check whether you should skip breakfast or lunch. Some blood tests require that you show up with an empty stomach. Knowing this beforehand can save you another trip to the lab.
If you have medical insurance, be sure to take any insurance cards you’ll need to present at the office for reimbursement.
If your condition is complicated or you are trying to make serious decisions about your health and can get overwhelmed easily, consider bringing along a family member or friend to your appointment. Your “appointment buddy” can help take notes, ask questions and give you support. Set some rules ahead of time: Do you want him or her to step outside during the physical examination? Can sensitive personal information be openly discussed? How proactive should he or she be?
Then sit down and think about what you want to get out of the visit. This is the time to understand that your 15 minutes cannot address everything. You may have five or six issues on your mind, but realistically you are going to have time to deal with, at most, your top three. Decide what these are before going in. Consider making a second appointment or booking a double appointment if you believe your issues are complicated or so numerous as to require the extra time.
The important point is to set your own priorities for the day you walk into the office.
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