How to Get the Most out of Your Doctor Visit

Ever come home from the doctor's office, realizing he/she was on a completely different page than you? Here's how to talk to your doctor in a way that s/he can best understand you, so that they can help you get back into good health.


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    Know thyself. Each individual is unique. Bodies are different, symptoms are different, and reactions to medications (for better or for worse) are different for each patient. No doctor will know your body better than you know yourself. Your doctor will be looking for what has changed or is different, and they must rely on you for that information.
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    Plan ahead. Many patients arrive without consciously identifying their goals for the visit. Make a short list of specific concerns you would like to discuss, starting with the most important ones.
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    Dress for success. Your practitioner needs to see and often feel the parts of the body in question. Time spent dressing and undressing is time you could be spending face to face with the doctor. For example, if you have a cough and ask if you might have pneumonia, or if you have concerns about your heart, expect to have to take off your shirt (and bra, if appropriate) to have them listen to all parts of your lungs and heart. Wear a shirt that buttons all the way down.
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    Know what your practitioner wants from you. Primary care practitioner have an average of 10-15 minutes to spend per patient, from start to finish, including asking you all their questions, performing a physical examination, determining a diagnosis, and prescribing whatever treatments are necessary, then to write it all down in your permanent medical record. You can count on a practitioner asking an alphabet of questions, with a common medical mnemonic being “(O)-P-Q-R-S-T”: Pain (“Where does it hurt?), Quality (“What does it feel like?”), Radiation (“Does it move anywhere?”), Scale (“How bad is it? How much does it affect you?”), Timing (“When did it start? How long does it last? Does it come and go? Is it gradual or sudden in onset? What makes it better or worse?”), and Other (“Any other symptoms?”) The quicker you get those details out in the open, the quicker your practitioner can help you get to a diagnosis (and to a solution).
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    Be specific without being verbose.
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    Give a chronological account. While you should not start from the dawn of time and creep forward, a good place to start is “this seems to have started (so many days ago) with…”


  • Don’t be afraid to set up multiple appointments or ask for a longer appointment. In general, you have time in one appointment to talk about one or two diseases. If you know that you have multiple urgent issues that will take more than 10 minutes, ask the secretary to book you for an extended visit.
  • Schedule regular health checkups or physicals. The more face-to-face time you have with your doctor, the more likely you are to remember to ask about that little mole on our back, for example.
  • Be specific and explicit about your goal for the visit. Imagine you could only say one sentence during your visit. Make that the first thing out of your mouth.
  • Look in the toilet. As disgusting as it sounds, your urine and stool history is an invaluable key to a proper diagnosis in many instances. Color, character, consistency (of stool), and frequency are important. Check for blood, undigested food, and any other unusual colors.
  • Perform regular self examinations. As instructed by your doctor, do self breast or testicular exams.
  • Take your temperature. Knowing whether or not you have had a true fever can sway the diagnostic balance tremendously.
  • Be honest. It is important that your doctor knows everything so they know exactly how they can help.
  • Keep a personal health journal. For example, if you have headaches (or stomachaches, or lightheadedness, or any other ailment), keep track of each time you had it, what you were doing when it started, how long it lasted, what you did to make it go away (including medicines).
  • Always bring an updated list of your current medications


  • Don’t self-diagnose. Your job is to tell your practitioner what is wrong. Your practitioner's job is to figure why. For example, if you wonder whether your cough could be pneumonia, ask (or state that you are worried). Do not presume to know the diagnosis.
  • Don’t "demand" medications as if you are ordering from a menu.
  • Listen, ask questions, take short notes and educate yourself! Today's health care environment is increasingly complex and most practitioners appreciate a well educated patient to work with them as a team rather than a passive recipient of care.
  • Don’t bring a laundry list of complaints. If you get 10 minutes total to talk with your practitioner, make sure you talk about the top one or two things that ails you most. Start with those things, and let your doctor explore the related symptoms.
  • Many times there are other options you may not be aware of. There may also be problems with a specific medication you think you may need and the "big picture" of your particular situation. This is where your providers education and experience is of most value.
  • If you feel you really need a particular medication (including pain medication) for a particular reason then be upfront and explain why. Most practitioners are willing to hear you out and discuss your options.
  • Don’t ramble.

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Categories: Health Care and Medical Information