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How to get the most out of your visit to your doctor

Consultations, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, and follow-up office visits can be difficult for both patient and physician. You, the patient, may be anxious about your symptoms or results of tests to be discussed. It may not have been easy to secure the appointment time, prepare for the examination, and to travel to the office. The physician may have been running late, seem pressured for time, and is asking you questions you are not prepared to answer. For the physician the encounter with you may be challenging because he or she is trying to stay on or get back on schedule, has been interrupted by calls from other physicians or emergencies, and needs to record everything laboriously on your paper or electronic medical record  

Here are a few tips to maximize the value of your visit:

  1. Prepare a list of topics you feel you need to cover. Try to prioritize what is most important and discuss that first. The physician will want to know how long the problem has been bothering you and any clues like: is it constant or intermittent, what makes the symptom better or worse (for example eating, exercising, body position, time of day, talking to your boss). Accurate diagnosis is like solving a mystery; the more clues and data obtainable the better the success of the investigation.
  2. Feel free to take notes as each question is discussed. If the physician uses technical terms, ask for clarification.
  3. Bring all medications you take with you to the visit or at least a list of all medications you are taking, including doses. This list should include both prescription and “over the counter” medications like vitamins, probiotics, herbs, and other “magic potions”. Ideally try to record which physician prescribed the medication and when that was. (By the way, it is a good idea for you to have this list of medications handy at all times on your phone or in your wallet).
  4. Try to recall and jot down any prior surgeries, hospitalizations, prolonged illnesses, or visits to other physicians and when these occurred.
  5. If you have had recent evaluations elsewhere please bring copies or discs of those tests.
  6. If you have looked up your symptoms or condition on the internet or have discussed it with relatives or friends try to be skeptical of what you read or are told. like Phil, Oz, Ruth, and Google can be entertaining but not accurate or pertinent to your situation. In fact they are often overly pessimistic, sensationalistic -- and trying to sell you something.
  7. Tell your physician your fears about your condition. Are you afraid this is cancer or will lead to cancer? What is likely to happen in the future? Is it contagious? Can it be passed on to children genetically?

It is challenging to solve a mystery in a short encounter, especially one of such vital importance. If patient and physician can partner in their encounter the attempts to solve and treat the problem are most likely to succeed.

Wishing you continued health! 

Peter H. Rubin, MD

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