Doctors spend on average only a few minutes with each patient they see for routine examinations. (Of course, there is often time out of the exam room that is spent reviewing the chart and records.) The experience can be both confusing and frustrating when communication on one or both sides is lacking, particularly if you're presented with new information to process or new instructions to follow.
While a visit to the clinic can be intimidating for anyone, you can lessen the stress and worry associated with doctor's appointments by taking steps to be sure that you're provided with all the information you need at the appointment. There are also ways you can improve the quality of your care by helping your doctor develop the best understanding possible of your symptoms and condition.
Before the appointment, write down a list of things you need to tell the doctor. Note any concerns or questions you may have. Also write down the names and dosages of any prescription, over-the-counter medications, or supplements you are taking. It is very important to take this list with you to the appointment - don't count on remembering every single item. Before you leave the office, go over the list to be sure you've covered everything. This simple step benefits both you and your doctor by keeping the discussion focused and ensuring that all your concerns are addressed.
Don't hesitate to use the words "I don't understand." Doctors are only human and may not always know when they haven't explained something well or in terms you can understand. Never feel embarrassed or shy about asking for clarification about something your doctor says. When in doubt, repeat back what your doctor has told you and ask if you've got it right. You can also ask if he or she recommends any specific reading materials about your condition.
If your doctor asks questions that sound embarrassing or overly personal, remember that the information you provide enables him or her to better establish a diagnosis, or to determine which treatment is most appropriate for you. Never fib in response to questions about alcohol or drug use, sexual history, or other lifestyle matters. Be honest about the extent to which you are taking your prescriptions or following a treatment plan. Withholding the truth can affect the quality of your care and can even lead to a wrong diagnosis.
Finally, the office medical assistants and nurses can be an additional resource of information. Do not hesitate to ask them questions about your concerns as well.
Advance preparation for your doctor's visit is a vital step toward becoming a partner in your own health care and an advocate for your health and well-being. A good doctor will always encourage your desire to understand as much as possible about your condition and will welcome your active participation in your care.
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Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2005