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Maximizing your physician contact

Here are some ideas intended to ensure maximum benefit is gained from the time spent with your doctor, and to help visits run as smoothly as possible. Good luck!

Before the Appointment

Remember - You know your body better than anyone else! Trust what it's telling you.

Health Plans - No two health plans were created equal. It's a good idea to learn about your own plan before you need it.

Making the appointment - Provide your doctor's office with a one-sentence "chief complaint". This will help the office make some important decisions, like how long you may have to wait for, or the length of the appointment.

Common concern? - If you have a common health problem and your doctor's schedule is full, ask if there are other alternatives. Depending on your location, a physician assistant or nurse practitioner may be able to see you sooner than your doctor.

The chief complaint - The doctor's going to ask you a lot of questions that are important to him/her, but what's important to you? Try thinking of three questions you have about your chief complaint before you leave for the doctor's.

Your symptoms - Did you know that the information you relay to your doctor is what most of the diagnosis is based on? With that in mind, try to think of some of the questions that your doctor is going to ask you while you're there. What does your pain feel like? What makes it better? What makes it worse? What have you tried so far?

Family tree - Doctors will commonly ask not only about your own history, but your family's medical history as well. If you are uncertain about your family history, consider asking some of your relative's about it. If you are adopted, the adoption agency may be able to provide you with information about your biological family.

Write it down! - If you get anxious or nervous (or even if you don't), think about making a list of the things you want to talk about (remember those three questions you were thinking of?) While you're at it, make a list of other things you know they're going to ask - like your prescription and over-the-counter medications and any allergies.

Bring a friend - If you're comfortable doing so, and you think it may help, ask someone you trust to accompany you. An extra set of eyes and ears may help you remember things that you would have forgotten otherwise. Speak with the other person about what you hope to achieve during the appointment so you're working with, not against each other.

During the appointment

Ask the big stuff first - We all know that doctor's appointments are usually shorter than we'd like them to be. With that in mind, make time for the most important issues by asking about them first. If you feel like you needed more time, ask your doctor if you can schedule another appointment to finish your discussion another day.

Information Control - From time to time, the amount of information you want might be different from what you're getting from your doctor. If you're the sort of person who feels better with more information, feel free to ask your physician to share it all with you - test results, treatment options, prognoses. Sometimes all that information can be overwhelming too - in these situations you can ask your physician for time to digest what you've already covered, and save the rest for the next time.

Prescribed a new medication? - You have a right to know what you're putting into your body. Some questions you may want to ask are:

How will this medication help me?
What is the best way to take it?
How long should I take it for?
What are the potential side effects?
What should I do if I experience a side effect?
What should I do if I forget to take my medication?
(If applicable) Is it safe to become pregnant on this medication?

Being sent for a test? - What do they hope to determine? What will it entail? What (if anything) do you need to do in preparation?

Write it down (again)! - Writing notes (along with bringing a friend, if that's what you decided to do) will help you to remember what you discussed during your appointment. Don't trust that you'll remember everything, especially if it's been a particularly emotional visit. To further supplement your note taking, ask if there is any written material that you can take away with you.

Any questions? - Don't be shy! This is your chance to ask about anything that has not been clear to you. And remember, even though your doctor's visit is only about 15 minutes long, that doesn't mean you have to make all your decisions that quickly. If there's something you'd like to investigate further, tell your doctor that you require more time.

After the appointment

Review the visit - Read over your notes, talk with your friend. How do you feel about the visit? Are there any questions you wish you had thought of at the time? Do you still feel the same about any decisions you made?

Still have questions? - You could wait until your next doctor's visit, or you might be able to get the same sort of information from another health care professional. Consider speaking to pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, or nurses. They may have more time to spend with you and be just as (sometimes more) able to answer your concerns.

Still have questions? - If you're the sort who likes to do your own research, it's best to use reliable resources. Of the sites on the Internet, those from major universities and health centers or regional health-related organizations are the most trustworthy.

Journal - Especially if you have a chronic condition that will necessitate on-going care, it might be a good idea to keep a diary of the disease course. If you're feeling worse write down what things you did just before things got worse (what you ate even?). If you've started a new medication, or have changed doses it might help to rate how you're feeling daily to see any improvements. Write down anything new that is happening too - it might help you to determine if you're experiencing any new side effects.

Keep in touch - Your doctor will assume that you're following the treatment plan you both decided on unless you tell him/her differently. If you feel that your most recent action plan isn't helping, call and ask what can be done. Try to avoid making changes without consulting your health care provider unless it's absolutely necessary.

Satisfaction (should be) guaranteed - There are many reasons to request a second opinion. Some people are content with their physician, but would prefer a fresh perspective on their situation. Some feel that they may have a better therapeutic relationship with another physician. You are not insulting your doctor by seeking another opinion or changing doctors, and your quality of care should not be compromised for any reason.

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