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How to Get the Most out of a Doctor Visit

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Has this ever happened to you? You have a mental list in your head of all the things you want to ask your health care provider at your next doctor visit, but when you get there, you forget them—and go home with many unanswered questions.

This type of doctor visit amnesia is common, especially among seniors and others with complex health conditions. The good news is that there are steps you can take to get the information you need to care for yourself and manage your condition, and make the best use of your doctor visit. Here are some strategies to try the next time you see your doctor.

Keep a notepad to record your symptoms, questions, and concerns before your doctor visit.

The National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests keeping a log of your symptoms in the weeks before your doctor visit. Add any pertinent details that may affect your symptoms, such as what you were doing when you first noticed them and how long they lasted. These details may help your health care provider better understand the source of the problem and the best way to treat or manage it. Be sure to bring your notepad with you to your doctor visit—write yourself a reminder or set an alert on your smartphone if you use one to help you remember.

Bring a list of your current medications.

This is especially important if you see more than one health care provider; each may not know what the others have prescribed. Write down each medication you take, including the dosage, how often you take it, and how long you’ve used the medication. Don’t forget to record any vitamins, supplements, or over-the-counter medications you take. Your doctor visit is a good time for you to discuss any concerns you have about your daily medications and any side effects you may have.

Make sure your family health history is up to date.

The Cleveland Clinic suggests you take a minute during your doctor visit to note any changes in your family’s health history. Some diseases and conditions tend to run in families; your doctor needs to know your family health history in order to better predict your risk for developing a particular disease.

Take a friend or family member with you to your doctor visit.

The National Institutes of Health recommends that you don’t go to your doctor visit alone if you can help it. Two sets of ears may help avoid misunderstandings, and your companion may come up with questions to ask that you hadn’t considered. It’s also good to have someone to help you remember everything that was discussed during your doctor visit. Ask your friend to take notes and write down any important instructions from your doctor.

Be properly prepared.

When you make an appointment with your health care provider, be sure to ask if there is anything special you need to do to prepare. If you know you will have a fasting blood sugar test at your doctor visit, for example, make sure you follow any instructions about when and what you can eat and drink prior to the test.

Arrive 15 minutes early to your doctor visit.

The Cleveland Clinic points out that if you allow extra time before your actual appointment time, the staff has plenty of time to handle any paperwork at check-in and record your vital signs. This will help you get the maximum amount of face-to-face time with your health care provider during your doctor visit.

Be open and honest with your doctor.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed or afraid to talk openly during your doctor visit, even if some topics make you uncomfortable. The Cleveland Clinic points out that leaving out details or even misrepresenting them can negatively impact your care. If you haven’t been taking your medication as directed, for example, or if you develop a side effect you find embarrassing, your doctor needs to know in order to give you the best care. So approach your doctor visit with an “honesty is the best policy” mindset.

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