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Make the most of your health care provider's visit
Be prepared for your next office visit
  • Schedule your appointment for the time that is needed. The receptionist may ask why you want to see the doctor. Based on the problem, for example, a sore back, a follow-up blood pressure check, or a yearly physical exam, an amount of time will be set aside for you.
    • When you see the doctor it is very helpful to stay focused on the planned reason for the visit.
    • If you a have a form that needs to be completed, it is important to let the receptionist know ahead of time so the appropriate time will be set aside for your visit.
    • If your spouse also needs to be seen, it's best to arrange for a separate appointment for them, rather than trying to cover their medical problems during your visit.

  • Arrive on time. Being only 15 minutes late can often alter the schedule for every patient who comes after you that day. Busy practices often don't have any way to accommodate that loss of time to catch up.

  • Make the most of your visit. Improving health care quality is a team effort. You can improve your care and the care of your family by taking an active role in your health care. Ask questions. Understand your condition. Evaluate your options.

    • Bring a list of your questions, symptoms and concerns. Many times during a doctors office visit, 90% of the preliminary diagnosis is based on what the patient tells the health care provider. The other 10% of the diagnosis is based on findings from the physical exam. So, keep a diary of your symptoms and try to relay your symptoms as accurately as possible at your next office visit. For every symptom, it can be very helpful to note the following:
      • Location of the symptoms. Does the pain/symptom radiate anywhere?
      • Timing: When did the symptoms first start? How long do they last? How frequent are they?
      • Quality: What are the symptoms like? How long did they last? How severe, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst pain ever.
      • Factors that make the symptoms worse or better. Did you take any medications or herbal drugs for this problem and did anything help?
      • What were you doing at the time of the symptoms? Is there a relationship between your symptoms and eating, being active, or being under stress?
      • Have the symptoms gotten better, worse, or stayed the same over time?
      • Any associated symptoms or signs, such as fever, rash, or fatigue that started around the time of your symptoms?

    • Bring all medications (or bring a complete list) of all prescription drugs, herbs, vitamin supplements and over-the-counter medications you are taking.

    • Bring any medical records that your health care provider does not have (or have them sent ahead of time).

    • Take notes on what you are told

    • Ask questions if you don't understand a medical term, the reason for the recommendations or any other instructions about your health care.

    • At the end of the visit, ask for a print out of your medication list, if easily available. Offices who are highly efficient with an electronic medical record system are easily able to provide that print out for their patients.

What do you think is one of the most stressful parts of a health care professional's day?

Answer: Staying on time!

Written by N Thompson, MSN, ARNP and M Thompson, MD, Internal Medicine March 2007

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