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How To Maximize Limited Time With Your Doctor


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When you are with a doctor, time is limited. Keep in mind that there are three goals to accomplish during your time together:

  • Help the doctor fully understand your medical situation.
  • Get answers to your questions and concerns.
  • Understand the doctor's recommendations.

Following are guidelines and tips to help accomplish those purposes. Each of the guidelines and tips are discussed in other sections of this article.

Prepare for the meeting

  • Keep track of your symptoms: what they are, how long they last, the severity, what helps, what doesn't
  • Make notes about your questions. Before going to the meeting, prioritize them in order of importance so you at least get to ask the important ones during the meeting.
  • Take someone with you if you can to help ask questions and discuss what happened afterward
  • Take a recorder with you (for example, in a smart phone) or a pad and pen if case the doctor doesn't allow recordings
  • Check your insurance to find out whether the meeting is covered.
  • Be sure all test results and the like are received by the doctor's office before the meeting.
  • For additional information about preparing for a medical meeting, click here.

Help the doctor fully understand your medical situation.

  • Be open and honest with your doctor.
  • Tell the doctor everything that he or she needs to know.
  • Use medical terms whenever possible.
  • If you are asked a general question, answer it precisely.

Get answers to your questions and concerns.

  • Ask everything you need to know.
  • Be sure you understand what the doctor tells you.
  • If you have done research about your condition or treatment from another source, give the doctor a copy or the citation. Ask the doctor's opinion about the information rather than using it to confront him or her. 
  • Find out what to do if questions arise after the end of your meeting with your doctor.

Understand the doctor's recommendations.

To be sure you understand what the doctor tells you, consider the following ideas:

  • Record the session if the doctor lets you. Patients "immediately" forget 40% to 80% of what the doctor told them according to a 2003 paper in Britain's Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
  • At the end of the appointment, summarize your understanding of what you were told.

Additional helpful tips

  • At the beginning of the meeting, let the doctor what you hope to accomplish in the meeting.
  • Keep the playing field level so you feel as if you and the doctor are equal partners in your health care.
  • Do not expect the same relationship with all your doctors.
  • Be proactive.
  • Try to make yourself an individual to the doctor in whatever manner works for you. Telling about your personal life helps. So does showing concern for the doctor's life and schedule.
  • Expect the best from your doctor.
  • If you are over age 65, watch for doctors who think about your age before your symptoms.
  • Learn how to deal with problems that may arise in meetings with doctors.
  • If you do not accomplish everything you need to accomplish, ask the doctor when you can speak again on the telephone.
  • If you are grateful to your doctor, show it.

NOTE: To see techniques that can help when talking with your doctor, see Meret's Oppenheim's video: Talking With Your Doctor.

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