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Q: How do I get the most out of my doctor’s visit?
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A:Getting in to see your doctor for a non-emergency can take time. On average, new patients wait more than 18 days for an appointment, according to a nationwide survey. Once you do get in, the visit may last a half an hour or less, so you want to make every minute count.
“Most primary care doctors have their available timeslots pre-booked with chronic care patients who take longer to see: 20 to 30 minutes for a routine follow-up versus 10 to 15 minutes for straightforward cases like a sore throat or twisted ankle,” said George Lowe, MD, FACP, medical director of Maryland Family Care, a group of primary care doctors.
There are a few practical things you can do to prepare for your appointment. If you have a specific complaint, “it can be helpful for patients or members of their family to write down the history of their illness or problem,” said Timothy A. Pedley, MD, FAAN, president of the American Academy of Neurology.
When you go to the doctor’s office, bring along:
- A list of specific questions, prioritized with the most important ones first.
- Descriptions of any symptoms or changes in your health since the last visit.
- A complete rundown of medications, supplements, and vitamins you’re taking, including dosages.
Ask the office if you should send all this information in advance, so your doctor can review it.
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Consider bringing a friend or relative to your appointment. They may have a question you didn’t think of or recall something important you missed. They can take notes so you’re clear about the doctor’s instructions and next steps after you leave the office.
Make sure your answers to the doctor’s questions are honest and complete. A lot of patients lie or withhold information because they’re embarrassed to admit things like how little they exercise or how much alcohol they consume. This can result in a missed or inaccurate diagnosis.
Doctors often focus on physical complaints, and emotional issues can be missed. Be sure to raise any concerns you have about stress, anxiety, or depression that can impact your health. As clinical psychologist Lynn Bufka points out, “patients do themselves a good service by going in knowing the questions they want to ask.”
Access to your doctor doesn’t have to end when the appointment is over. More medical practices are using websites and email to communicate with patients, so ask what options may be available to you.
Do you have a health-related question for Dr. Gupta? You can submit it here. For more health news and advice, visit Health Matters With Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
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