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Making the Most of Doctor Appointments

Making the Most of Doctor Appointments

Here's a startling fact: For half of the people in the world, a visit with a primary care doctor lasts less than five minutes. In the United States, these medical appointments average about 20 minutes.

Preparing for a doctor's appointment can help you make the most of those brief minutes, ensuring a more productive visit and a more effective outcome. Use these tips to get organized and focused so you can be a better health advocate for yourself.

Set your goal for the appointment

Get clear on the exact reason for your doctor visit. You might find it helpful to work backwards by asking yourself, "What do I want to leave the appointment with?" Maybe it's:

  • Reassurance that your current treatment plan is achieving the desired results
  • An entirely new course of action that provides you with alternative ways to address your health and wellness needs
  • A deeper understanding of your medications and how they interact with each other
  • Peace of mind in knowing that all your test results came back clear and you don't have to return for another year
  • A prognosis as to what you can expect moving forward if you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or COPD
Communicate your goal to the office staff

Whether you make the appointment by phone or online, provide a few details about your concern. This helps the office staff know how much time to schedule for your visit.

This ensures you won't be slotted into a quick follow-up time period when you really need a new-symptoms-causing-patient-concern block of time. The University of Minnesota advises that if you ask for what you need on the front end, your time with your doctor will be more useful.

Make a list of questions

A few days before your appointment, start jotting down things you want to ask your physician. You might want to jump online and do some research about any symptoms you're having to better understand medical terms that might arise in your appointment.

Don't worry about coming across as pushy. You need to know exactly what rel="noopener noreferrer" rel="noopener noreferrer" you can do to take better rel="noopener noreferrer" care of yourself. The National Institute on Aging suggests that you rank your questions and discussion points in order of priority so you can start with the most important ones right away. Record the answers in a notepad or on your smartphone.

Document your symptoms

If the reason for your appointment is due to symptoms that concern you, keep a diary so you're able to be specific with your doctor. Ask yourself:

  • When did the symptoms start?
  • What do they feel like?
  • When are they most likely to occur?
  • Is there a trigger you can point to?
  • What makes them worse, and what makes them better?
Bring your medications

Often one of the first questions asked if you've not seen your doctor for a while is if you're taking any new medications or supplements. Your primary care doctor might not know that a specialist prescribed something for you or that you've started taking over-the-counter sleep aids.

You can put together a list or you can just drop everything you take into a reclosable plastic bag. Another option is to take close-up photos of the labels with your phone.

Take a friend with you

Bringing along a trusted friend or family member has many advantages. They can act as a second set of ears and a source of moral support if you're facing a difficult diagnosis or feeling overwhelmed.

Additionally, they can serve as a scribe, taking notes so you can concentrate on asking the doctor your questions and listening to the replies. Jeremy Barron, M.D., director of ambulatory care services at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told Everyday Health that older patients who are accompanied by a caregiver remember more from their appointments. They also feel more satisfied with their medical care.

Ask for more time if you need it

If you do end up with a 20-minute appointment slot, you may feel rushed and pressured, especially if you've received some less-than-positive news. If you're uncertain about your diagnosis or treatment plan, don't leave the office.

Tell your doctor you need more time to discuss and better understand your situation. If she has other patients to see and isn't available to spend more time with you, ask to speak with a physician assistant or nurse.

With just a bit of preparation and determination, you can turn those 20 minutes into an informational doctor's visit that gets you the results and information you need to take the best possible care of yourself.

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