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Get the Most from Your Doctor's Appointment

Be Prepared To Maximize Your Time With Your Physician


Updated January 27, 2014

Most of us would never dream of showing up at a business meeting without notes, or an exam without having studied. Therefore, why go to a doctor's appointment, an important meeting about the status of your health care, without being properly prepared?

I have found that even if I only had 15 minutes with my gastroenterologist, a list of questions and symptoms to discuss helped me walk out of the office better informed about my healthcare and condition. My doctors also appreciated that I had times and dates of symptoms written down, and did not have to rely on my (less than perfect) memory.

Here are some tips to help you to get the most from your next appointment with your doctor or other healthcare professional.

Before the appointment:

  • Keep a journal of questions. Concerns about your condition may come up at random times, and unless they're written down, may be forgotten. Make a running list of questions to be addressed.
  • Keep a food and/or symptoms journal. By faithfully keeping track of your symptoms and diet, your doctor can get a good picture of your every day health. Patterns may emerge upon inspection of your notes that will give clues to more effective treatments.
  • Send any relevant articles about your condition to your doctor via email or fax. Call the doctor's office for a fax number, and send in your material, with a note that you would like to discuss it at your next appointment (don't forget to include the day and time as reminders).

Things to bring to the appointment:

  • List of questions and concerns.
  • List of current medications and doses (don't forget supplements and herbs!).
  • Food and symptoms journal.
  • Blank paper for notes.
  • Articles or other materials to be reviewed (the doctor should already have a copy - bring one for you.
  • Spouse/friend/family member to assist.

During the appointment:

  • Take down some quick notes on answers to questions, or other comments made by the doctor. Ask for the spelling of tests, medication, or other unfamiliar words. You can go over your notes after the appointment and further flush them out.
  • Ask the doctor if there is any reading material (books, pamphlets, etc.) available that may help answer any questions you might have. Some questions about tests, procedures, and medications may be thoroughly answered through pamphlets, and the doctor can offer some highlights during your appointment.
  • If any of your questions remain, or need further research, ask if you can correspond with the doctor by fax or email. If you send relevant articles to your doctor before the appointment, you can spend your time together discussing them.

After the appointment:

Schedule yourself some time to go over your notes and think about what was discussed during the appointment. If you brought someone else with you, this is a good time to help each other remember what was said, and discuss any decisions that need to be made regarding treatment. This may result in additional or follow-up questions, which should be jotted down in preparation of the next appointment.

I realize that for many of us, this businesslike approach to doctor's appointments is only an ideal - the reality is often very different. Doctors (particularly specialists with excellent reputations) may not have the amount of time they would like to spend with each patient, and appointments are rushed. Some patients may not feel comfortable questioning a doctor about treatments.

Healthcare is truly a team effort. General practitioners, specialists, and the patient must work together for the best possible treatment. The above tips can help you, the patient, keep up your end of the effort and in so doing, help yourself.

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