Family Best Time >> Health

Five ways to get more from your doctor visit

Today, going to the doctor is more like speed dating than providing healthcare. Patients are in contact with the doctor for a few minutes and he or she does most of the talking. How can you get the information you need and the results you want during a 15-minute doctor's visit? What if the treatment options don't feel right? Here are some tips for becoming a 'pleasantly assertive' patient so that the caregivers can help you better.

1. Prepare for your visit. It may seem crazy, but it's really helpful to write down your symptoms, complaint or problem and then summarize it in a few sentences. Bring your list and summary to the visit so the doctor can quickly assess your condition and ask specific questions, rather than spend time on general issues. This one step can make visits 25 to 50 percent more effective.

2. Have an agenda. Decide what you want from the visit before your appointment. For example, if you have back pain, you may want to know what is causing the pain and a treatment plan for getting better. Tell your doctor about this at the start of your visit. Sharing this information can help you make better treatment decisions, make visits more efficient, and increase the likelihood that your healthcare needs are met effectively.

3. Know your medical history and medications. To help you get the treatment you need, doctors need to know what tests you've had and when, as well as what medications you're taking if they aren't already known there. Without this information, they could mistakenly reschedule tests or prescribe drugs that interact badly with something you're already taking. This can have adverse consequences for your health.

4. Tell the doctor about your lifestyle preferences that may affect your treatment. It doesn't make sense to agree to a treatment plan that you know you won't follow, it won't result in feeling better. For example, if your Wednesday night smoking rehab meeting conflicts with your book club, it won't be an effective intervention for you. On a more serious level, if you don't want to deal with the uncertainty of a possible cancer recurrence, you may prefer a mastectomy over a lumpectomy. Likewise, if you can't afford medication, tell your doctor, even if you're embarrassed. There are often ways around the challenges if your healthcare team knows them.

5. Clarify the decision to be made. Sometimes you will be presented with different options, so make sure you understand the alternatives and ask for clarification if not. Your doctor should be able to provide you with important information about each option during the visit or after a debriefing. Ask the details of the option to ask how good the medical information is.