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General Health Articles

What to do When Visiting Your Doctor

A visit to your doctor, no matter how minor the complaint, is always serious: it's your health. Make the most of the time your doctor has for you by preparing what you need to say ahead of time.

Most doctors have a busy and tight schedule, and allow anywhere from 8 to fifteen minutes for an office visit. To get the most out of this you need to maximize the exchange of information between you and your physician. Follow some basic suggestions for how to make the time productive for both of you: your health and your doctor's ability to help you will benefit.

• Make a list of your symptoms ahead of time, and take the list with you if you need to.

• Mention the most important symptom or problem first.

• It really helps to be as precise as possible when describing symptoms, so think about what to say and how to say it beforehand. This is very important because the symptoms of one condition often mimic others, so the more detail you have the better. You want to avoid a misdiagnosis.

• Tell your doctor when each symptom started, what they make you feel like, whether or not you still have them, and all details about them.

• Allow your doctor to ask questions while you're talking: this is part of the process of narrowing down the condition or illness, and is also part of normal conversation.

• When your doctor mentions possible diagnoses ask about other symptoms associated with them, because sometimes you forget minor symptoms that can help identify the problem.

• Don't be intimidated by your doctor, the office, or the questions asked. Every bit of information is useful to a physician in diagnosing your problem, so delicate matters like drug use, sex and alcohol consumption can (and should) come up.

• Tell the doctor all the medications you are currently taking or have recently taken, including over-the-counter drugs and remedies. This is very important when prescribing new drugs. Also make sure to mention any side-effects you've had with past medications or remedies.

• Tell the doctor about all the other things that influence health, like smoking, stress, personal problems, family health histories, previous accidents, and anything that might help with an overall assessment.

• Ask about generic forms of medication to keep costs down, but be aware that not all drugs come in a generic form, especially when they are new.

• Ask questions about the medications themselves, like when to take them, potential side-effects for you, possible interaction with other medications, or alternatives.

• Don't hesitate to decline a medicine if you think it is too expensive or you're afraid of a reaction: your health is about you.

• If you are facing a procedure or surgery, make sure to ask about the preparations before and about what to expect afterwards. Also ask about possible permanent side-effects and, if these bother you, alternatives.

• Ask if further testing will help with the diagnosis.

• Bring up questions about billing, insurance, or office procedures at the end of your visit. They are all important issues and part of your overall health care, but actual health issues should always come first.

• If you feel that your doctor hasn't understood something that really concerns you, tell him or her again. Speak directly and say that the matter concerns you, even if you have to admit that you know it is just out of fear.

• Be realistic about your doctor and about healthcare in general. Not every doctor is able to diagnose every problem, and not every problem can be solved the first time you try. Humans are complex organisms, and more is always being discovered.

• After your visit if you feel you did not get the answers you expected, of if the diagnosis was for a serious health condition, you may want to seek a second opinion. Your doctor may feel insulted, but it is YOUR health, and you have a right to get as much information and opinions as you feel warranted.


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