3. Know Your Medical History
Go through your family tree and look at what diseases and conditions run through it. If you don't know, ask your relatives. Conditions like cancer, heart disease, even depression and anxiety have a genetic component, says Caroline Abruzese, MD, president of Personalized Healthcare in Atlanta.
4. Bring in Your Medications
You want to make sure you're taking the correct medicine at the correct dose. "Over the years I've seen some unusual things with medications, including the wrong pill in a bottle," says Cutler.
5. Describe Your Symptoms, but Don't Conclude
Abruzese says she coaches her patients to illustrate the experience they're having. "If you have ear pain and tell your doctor, 'I have an ear infection,' you're excluding other causes of ear pain, such as TMJ or tooth abscess, and your doctor may do that as well," she says. Better to keep a wider path and let the doctor entertain all the possibilities. "Accurate but incomplete information is better than definitive but potentially wrong," says Abruzese.
6. Be Specific About Your Symptoms
Try to get as precise as you can about what you're feeling. If you've got a pain, is it a shooting, sharp pain or a dull ache? Does it come and go after eating? How long does it last? A few seconds? A few minutes? How long have you had it? A week? A month? A year? Does anything decrease the pain?
Also, turn subjective data into objective. If you feel feverish, for example, take your temperature for a week nightly and write down all the information.
This way when you see your doctor you can say, "I've had six headaches in one month, they weren't relieved by Tylenol, they lasted four hours, and I had nausea with them." Then give your doctor time to ask questions.
7. Ask Your Doctor What to Expect
If your doctor does make a diagnosis, ask what you should expect and any red flags you should be looking for, says Gordon Schiff, MD, associate director of the Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. In other words, if you have a viral respiratory infection you should be better in seven days. If you suddenly develop a high fever or feel neck pain, that's a tip-off that something isn't right, says Schiff.