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Tips: Make Your Doctor's Visit Count!
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, January 2012

We are all aware of how the practice of medicine has changed and how doctors' visits, in particular, have changed. It is more common that a doctor's visit will be quick (10 minutes) and the time to discuss complex issues, symptoms, medications, and alternative treatment options can be overwhelming, especially when you are not feeling so well to begin with!

Healing and wellness is a collaborative experience and process.The patient, the doctor and the medical team do best when they work together to understand the various contributors to one's illness and it is important to have good listening and questioning skills, to be prepared, informed, and "present" when meeting with your health care provider. Realize that certain questions can be answered by the office staff, a nurse or a physician's assistant. Save what you need for the doctor to maximize your time and purpose.

Choose your "engagements" wisely. Here are some tips to consider:

Select a Doctor That You Like - Someone who receives your questions willingly and who gives you the impression that you are the ONLY person and your situation is the only thing on his or her mind when you are in the office is useful. Sometimes the office staff can be off-putting due to any number of reasons and it is not uncommon for patients to change doctors because of the way the office staff treats them. Do your best to be respectful and kind to the office staff.

Come Prepared To The Appointment - Try to make an appointment early in the day since waiting is always an issue and doctors' schedules are always changed due to unforeseeable circumstances. Have your questions and concerns written, along with a list of prescriptions and over the counter medications (dosage and frequency) and vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies you take along complementary and alternative approaches to your healthcare such as acupuncture, etc. Be sure to include whether and how much you drink, smoke, and what your family history is re: certain illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, etc. Bring health records and the names and phone numbers of other doctors you see.

Speak Honestly - Especially about topics that may be difficult to discuss. Mention all symptoms you experience and have a good idea how long you have had them. When words, phrases, terms are used that are not clear (medical speak) be sure to ask for clarification. Sometimes doctors use terms with patients that are understood by other doctors but not by most people. It is your job to remind them to speak in a way that is understandable. Over time, you will learn the "language" but it takes time and repetition. Try not to feel intimidated by not understanding the terms. Just ask for clarification.

Bring a Friend or Family Member - Their job is to listen, take notes and maybe ask questions if you have discussed this beforehand. Having another person with you can be amazingly helpful if you are not feeling well, having to understand complicated diagnoses or treatment plans, or just for support.

Follow Up - Before you leave the appointment, be sure you understand what next steps you are to take (further testing, medication regimen, other consultations) and be clear about your follow up and how you can reach the doctor should you have questions.

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