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Five Ways to Optimize a Doctor's Appointment

Update Date: Jul 30, 2014 03:07 PM EDT

For many people, seeing their primary care physicians at least once a year is the norm. During these physical check-ups, doctors are supposed to cover a wide range of health topics in a very short time span.

"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 according to Everyday Health.

In order to make the most of a doctor's appointment, here are five tips to follow:

1. Prepare

Before heading to the doctor's office, patients should take some time and prepare. One of best ways to prep is to create a list of questions with the most important ones at the top. Another way to prepare, especially for patients who are dealing with some kind of health issue, is to write down any health problems, including any kinds of symptoms. Another way patients can prep for a visit is to list out all of the medications and the doses that they are currently on. By creating these lists, patients can save time to discuss other topics and avoid forgetting something during the appointment.

"Ask yourself what you really care about," said Karen Sepucha, director of the Health Decision Sciences Center at Massachusetts General Hospital reported by Buffalo News. "How much are you willing to do to get rid of your symptoms? What are your main concerns and what are you hoping to achieve with treatment? Make sure the doctor knows what is important to you - and write things down."

2. Consider Bringing Someone Along

Doctor visits do not always have to be lonely. Patients can bring along a family member or close friend for support, especially if they are dealing with health problems. Furthermore, a family member or a friend might remember things that could be useful. They can also ask questions from a different perspective or simply help take notes down during the appointment to avoid missing important points that might have been discussed.

3. Be Honest

One of the most important parts of having a successful doctor's appointment is to be completely honest. When answering doctor's questions, one must leave feelings of embarrassment outside the office. A doctor cannot offer any useful medical assistance if the patient is not providing adequate and truthful information. There is also a chance that the false information can lead to a misdiagnosis, which can jeopardize health if medications are prescribed.

4. Don't be afraid to Question the Doctor

Even though doctors are the ones with years of medical training, patients should never be too afraid to speak up. If a patient feels like the doctor is not attentive, he/she should ask more detailed questions and even disagree with the doctor if needed. If the appointment remains one-sided, patients could miss out on certain care.

"Doctors think that if patients don't speak up, they don't want a conversation and they want to be told what to do," said Dr. Michael J. Barry, a clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and president of the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation. "We know from a lot of research that patients are often afraid about speaking up. People are afraid of being labeled a bad patient by their doctors if they speak up too much or push back."

5. Always ask for options

When it comes to treatment, it does not hurt to ask the doctor about other available treatments out there. People respond to medications differently. In order to figure out which kinds of treatments are the best, patients should be able to weigh their options with their doctors. It is also important that patients know the benefits and harms that each option entails. It also does not hurt to ask doctors about the cost difference between options. Even if doctors do not have that information readily available, they might be willing to do some research.

Despite all these tips, the most important thing for patients to remember is to go and see their primary care physicians, especially if they are concerned about something.

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