How Can I Help My Doctor?
Medical Author: Dennis Lee, M.D.
During the past decade, we have witnessed unprecedented
advances in medical knowledge and technology. Many new medications are becoming
available for both the treatment and prevention of diseases. Newly developed
tests are not only more accurate, but are also quicker and more tolerable than
the older techniques. Some conditions that formerly required major surgeries and
prolonged hospitalizations are being corrected by minimally invasive procedures
with an overnight hospital stay. This exciting pace of medical innovations shows
of letting up.
Meanwhile, many doctors and patients alike are disenchanted with the healthcare delivery
system in our country. Doctors are frustrated by the regulatory burden and
frequently complain that their time to care for their patients is limited.
Additionally, many patients feel that they are not receiving the timely and
quality care they deserve.
There is no quick remedy for our ailing medical delivery system. However, doctors and
patients should work together to improve their relationship. Both parties can
accomplish this through better patient education, more open communication, and a
lot of patience and understanding. Traditionally, it is the doctors'
responsibility to establish trusting relationships with their patients. However,
there are a number of steps that patients can and should take to help themselves
and their doctors.
How can I help my doctor?
You can help your doctor by organizing your medical history prior to your doctor's
visit. Here is how:
Pay attention to your symptom(s). What is the location, duration, and character
of the discomfort? What brings them on? What aggravates them? What relieves
List all your medications and dosing schedules. Include all prescription and
nonprescription medications, supplements, vitamins,
herbs, and minerals. You might bring them with you to show your
doctor. That way, if there are questions about the dosing, there is no confusion.
List prior and current medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks , or cancers.
List prior surgeries (appendectomy, hysterectomy, knee replacement, etc.), procedures (colonoscopy, mammography, upper GI x-rays, etc.), and
hospitalizations. Bring any hospitalization records and procedure reports in your possession.
What questions to ask my doctor?
What do you think is causing my problem?
Is there more than one condition (disease) that could be causing my
What tests will you do to diagnose my problem and which of the underlying
conditions is present?
How accurate are the tests for diagnosing the problem and the conditions?
How safe are the tests?
What is the likely course of this condition? What is the long-term
outlook with and without treatment?
What are my treatment options? How effective is each treatment option?
What are the benefits versus the risks of each treatment option?
If my symptoms worsen, what should I do on my own? When should I contact
Are you aware of each of the medications that I am taking? Can they
adversely interact with the medications you are prescribing for me?
Should we monitor for side effects of the medications that you are
prescribing or for their interactions with other medications I am taking?
How about follow-up care?
Arriving at an accurate diagnosis and optimal treatment often takes time and may require repeated visits
and tests. Be patient and communicate with your doctor.
Here are some suggestions:
Do not stop prescribed medications on your own, even if your symptoms have resolved. If your prescription runs out, ask your doctor whether you should
obtain a refill.
If the prescribed treatment is not helping you, or is causing side
effects, inform your doctor right away. He/she may have to rethink the diagnosis
and/or change the treatment.
If the doctor cannot offer you a firm diagnosis or help you with your
symptoms despite repeated visits, it is OK to ask for another opinion. Most
doctors will be glad to help their patients solicit second opinions or specialty
Always ask your doctor about your test results. Never assume that
everything must be fine if you do not hear from the doctor's office.
Inform your doctor if you are using alternative medicine or
non-prescription remedies because some of these remedies may interact with your
Educate yourself with credible and authoritative
medical information. Increasing your own knowledge about the characteristics
of your particular condition, your medications, and their side effects can
benefit you, your family, and your doctor.
Information about your condition may be provided by your doctor. You can
also find valuable information on the Internet. Be certain to look for credible