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Get the Most From Your Doctor Visits

A typical doctor's office visit lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. That gives your health care provider little time to talk to you about your health problem, examine you, make a diagnosis, then suggest a treatment plan.

To avoid wasting valuable time, be prepared for every  visit, using the following pointers.

Before the appointment:

  • Identify your symptoms or the reason for your visit. Before your visit, review your symptoms and put them in chronological order. Writing them down may help you give a more thorough description of your illness. Be prepared to answer these questions: What are your symptoms? When did they begin? How often do they happen? Which medications were you taking when the problem started? Which medications are you taking now?

  • Obtain relevant medical records if you're changing health care providers or seeing a specialist. Call your previous health care provider to find out how to get copies of your records, lab, and X-ray reports sent directly to the new office.

  • Prepare a list of the drugs you take and note your dosages. Note any allergies or bad reactions that you have had to any medicines in the past. Include both prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbs and supplements. To ensure accuracy, it is helpful to bring your actual prescription bottles with you. 

  • Review your health insurance and know what it will pay for and what costs are your responsibility.

At the appointment:

  • Get to the point. Explain why you're there by relaying your present symptoms and concerns in a logical fashion. Relate any relevant past medical history and provide copies of lab reports, X-rays, or other tests if you have them.

  • Don't request a particular medication just because a friend takes it or because you saw it on television. Let your health care provider determine the right medications for you.

  • Tell your health care provider if you're allergic to any drugs.

  • Ask questions. Your health care provider should fully explain your problem and discuss the pros and cons of the proposed treatments or tests in simple terms. Make sure you understand your condition and your treatment options before you leave the office. Don't be timid or embarrassed: Keep asking questions until you understand. Your health, and perhaps even your life, may depend on understanding what is being said. 

After the appointment:

  • Follow your health care provider's orders. If you find you are confused about what you should do when you get home, call the doctor's office and ask for clarification. 

  • When you pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy, ask the pharmacist to review them in detail. Make certain you understand why you are taking the drug, when you should take it, how much to take, and how it should be taken, i.e. by mouth, mixed with juice, with food, etc. 

  • Tell your health care provider about any adverse side effects to your medication or if your condition doesn't improve or gets worse.

  • Take medications as directed. Follow drug dosages precisely. Taking more of a medication could be dangerous; taking less could delay recovery.

Finally, make any lifestyle changes your health care provider recommends, such as stopping smoking, improving your diet, and exercising regularly. Doing so can improve your immunity and your body's ability to heal itself.