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Get the Most From an Appointment With Your Doctor

Recent studies have shown that the average doctor’s appointment ranges from a mere seven to 21 minutes.

So, it’s not surprising to find that the key to getting the best care and information is to be fully prepared when you first step into your doctor’s office.

The Web site offers the following suggestions on how to get the most out of a few short minutes:

  • Know your history — Prior to your appointment, review and document the medical history of your immediate relatives. Bring copies of these records with you, especially if you’re seeing a new doctor.

  • Do your homework — Prepare to discuss specifics with your doctor. Use the Internet or local libraries to research specific conditions, treatments and drugs. In addition to mainstream options, there may be alternatives. Ask friends and family members — you could be surprised by what they know.

  • Survey your environment — Kids and co-workers getting sick? Know which bugs are circulating in the office. Check in with other parents or the school nurse to find out if anything is going around in your child’s school. Ask your doctor how to protect yourself and your family.

  • Make a list — It’s hard to remember everything you want to discuss during the appointment. Prepare a list of questions or topics before going to see your doctor. Between appointments, keep a list of questions to ask the next time. Also, remember the seven-minute appointment rule and make sure your most important questions are at the head of your list.

  • Get it right the first time — No one wants the needless cost and hassle of going to the wrong doctor. Check your health plan’s provider directory or visit its Web site to identify appropriate doctors. When you call for an appointment, verify that the doctor is still a member of the health plan’s provider network.

  • Take charge — Doctors see many patients a day, but they can’t read minds. Introduce the topics you want their opinion on, and be very clear about your concerns. Don’t leave until all your questions have been answered.

  • Ask about your drugs — If your doctor orders an unfamiliar prescription, inquire about potential interactions with your current medication. Since brand-name drugs can be very costly, always inquire about generic alternatives. Review the dosage and instructions with your pharmacist. He or she can also address any concerns you may have.

  • Follow up — Sometimes answers raise new questions. Ask when your doctor is available to answer any additional questions you might have. Can you send your questions via e-mail? If your doctor is not available, ask if there is someone who is. Nurse practitioners and aides are very knowledgeable, and may be easier to reach.

Informed patients make better health decisions for themselves and their families. Make sure you are as informed about your condition as you can possibly be.

— Lyn Wagner —

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing