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Making the Most of Your Doctor's Appointment

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Doctors often have only a short period of time with each patient they see for routine examinations. (Of course, there is also time out of the exam room that is spent reviewing the chart and records.) The experience can be both confusing and frustrating when communication on one or both sides is lacking, particularly if you're presented with new information to process or new instructions to follow.

While a visit to the doctor's office can be intimidating, you can lessen the stress and worry associated with doctor's appointments by taking steps to be sure that you're provided with all the information you need at the appointment. There are also ways you can improve the quality of your care by helping your doctor develop the best understanding possible of your symptoms, condition, and wishes regarding treatment.

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Before the appointment, write down a list of things you need to tell the doctor. Note any concerns or questions you may have. Also write down the names and dosages of any prescription, over-the-counter medications, or supplements you are taking. It is very important to take this list with you to the appointment - don't count on remembering every single item. Before you leave the office, go over the list to be sure you've covered everything. This simple step benefits both you and your doctor by keeping the discussion focused and ensuring that all your concerns are addressed.

Don't hesitate to use the words "I don't understand." Doctors are human and may not always know when they haven't explained something well or in terms you can understand. Never feel embarrassed or shy about asking for clarification about something your doctor says. When in doubt, repeat back what your doctor has told you and ask if you've got it right. You can also ask if he or she recommends any specific reading materials about your condition.

If your doctor asks questions that sound embarrassing or overly personal, remember that the information you provide enables the doctor to better establish a diagnosis or to determine which treatment is most appropriate for you. Never fib in response to questions about alcohol or drug use, sexual history, or other lifestyle matters. Be honest about the extent to which you are taking your prescriptions or following a treatment plan. Withholding the truth can affect the quality of your care and can even lead to a wrong diagnosis or treatment.

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