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Tips for a Successful Doctor Visit

At your next doctor's appointment, get in, get the information you came for, and get out without wasting anyone's time -- including your own.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

"Help me ... help you. Help me, help you."

That famous line from the film Jerry Maguire may be the best advice a doctor could give his or her patient.

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"Some patients have the attitude, 'I'm putting myself in the hands of a professional,'" says Stephen Permut, MD, chairman of family and community medicine at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "They want you to make all their decisions for them."

Permut prefers to have patients get involved in their own care and engage the doctor in a cooperative effort to determine the best course of action.

So if you want to help your doctor help you, you need to help your doctor. Here's how.

1. Prepare for your doctor visit in advance.

A recent review of 33 studies showed that patients who filled out a detailed checklist before an office visit, or received in-office coaching that focused on their health status, asked more questions during their doctor visit and got more satisfaction from the visit.

"Keep a symptom diary," advises Terrie Wurzbacher, MD, a Navy physician for more than three decades and author of a book titled Your Doctor Said What? Exposing the Communication Gap.

"You may think you can remember everything," says Wurzbacher, "but by the time you get to see the doctor you will have forgotten the majority of what you wanted to tell the doctor, and it's important for the doctor to know the progression of the problem. Be specific. Explain that it all began with belly pain, and then you developed diarrhea, and so on."

Write down all of your medical problems, and also the names and the dosages of the medications you're taking. Once you've written it all down, make a copy and give it to the nurse when you arrive for your doctor visit. She'll add it to your medical records.

"You know the doctor is going to look at that before seeing you," says Wurzbacher.

2. Explain how you're feeling.

You know better than anyone else how you feel, and that information is vital to your doctor. That's why Permut prefers to take a patient's medical history himself.

Has your appetite increased or decreased? Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you have any pains? How's your mood? Your sex drive? Are you feeling unusually tired?

"I prefer to see the reaction on their face when I ask the questions," he says. "A bunch of studies show that 85 to 95 percent of diagnoses can be made by the medical history alone. Listening is what being a physician is all about. It's amazing what you can accomplish in 10 to 15 minutes."

3. Know what medications you're taking.

Are you taking any prescription drugs? If so, make sure you know the name of each drug, the dosage you're taking, and the number of times a day you take it. "That includes herbal remedies and over-the-counter drugs, too - even multivitamins," says Permut.

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