Better Health Through Advocacy 

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Making the Most of Your Medical Visit

The quality of health care is greatly improved when doctors and patients work together as partners.

Although much has changed in health care, one thing remains the same, and that is the importance of the doctor-patient relationship. The contribution of both parties is equally important to this partnership. The doctor provides skill and expertise, and the patient brings important information and concerns.

It is important that patients make the most of their medical visits by:

  • Learning how to participate in their own health care;
  • Getting the most from the time spent with their doctors; and
  • Learning to effectively communicate with their doctors about health concerns.

Good doctor/patient communications are the key to getting the best health care available to you. This requires effective two-way conversations, so that both the patient and the doctor are talking and listening. A conversation is effective when both parties have given and received the information they feel is necessary to resolve the problem.

Give your doctor all the necessary information.

  • Make sure you tell your doctor about all your symptoms. The details are important in helping your doctor to formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • Remind your doctor of matters discussed during prior conversations.
  • Tell your doctor about potentially bad health habits, such as drinking alcohol, improper eating and smoking. These factors are important for your doctor to be able to accurately assess your health.
  • Do bring someone with you, such as a spouse, friend or adult child, if you are uncomfortable or unable to discuss your health concerns with your doctor.
  • Do feel free to make comments or suggestions. Your doctor wants and needs your help.
  • Have your pharmacy name and phone number handy in case your doctor wants to call in a prescription.

There are many benefits of good doctor/patient communication.

  • You help your doctor help you.
  • You become a participant in your health.
  • You feel more in control of your health and your day-to-day life.
  • You have a better understanding of your health status and treatment plan.
  • You receive excellent care.
  • Your become a wise health consumer.

Make sure you get and understand the information you need.

  • Write down what the doctor tells you, including the diagnosis and treatment details. Ask for the information to be repeated and words to be spelled, if necessary.
  • Ask for an explanation if your doctor uses a word that you do not understand. It may be helpful for you to then restate the explanation to your doctor to make sure that you have understood it.
  • Make sure the doctor has explained your diagnosis and treatment in a way that YOU can understand.
  • Be persistent in asking a question until it is answered. You may have to explain what you are asking so that your doctor understands you. Don’t give up until you feel satisfied. If your doctor does not have the answer, ask for direction in finding other resources that will be helpful.
  • If you need time to comprehend the diagnosis and its effects, let your doctor know.
  • Ask about alternative drugs and treatments, and how they might be used.
  • Ask how often and for how long the medication must be taken. Also, ask if it is better to take the medication with food or on an empty stomach.
  • Ask about side effects and any medication or treatment that has been prescribed.
  • Ask how long your doctor thinks it will take until you see improvement in your condition.
  • Ask if a follow-up visit is required, or if you need to see a specialist.

Be prepared for your office visit.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my symptoms?
  • What is the main symptom?
  • How long have I had these symptoms?
  • Do I have a past history of these symptoms?
  • Does anyone in my family have a history of these symptoms?
  • What treatments have I tried? Were they at all effective?
  • Have I noticed any pattern to my symptoms? For example, do they get worse at a specific time of day or after a certain activity (eating, sleeping)?
  • Should I keep taking medications?
  • Am I due for any screening tests?

After you have thought about these questions, write down what you would like to discuss with your doctor. This includes your symptoms, concerns and the questions you wish to ask. These notes are for you, but if you feel comfortable, you could even give a copy to your doctor.

References

David E. Larson, M.D., Mayo Clinic Family Health Book (William Morrow & Co., New York, 1990), pp. 1210-1211.

William F. McNally, Managing Your Health Care
(Warde Publishers, California, 1997).

Communicating with Your Health Care Provider, Blue Choice (Dec. 1996).

Talking with Your Doctor, Krames Communications (1994).

National Institutes of Health, Talking With Your Doctor, (2015).

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Before Your Appointment, (2015).

Find a Physician

The Erie County Medical Society can provide you with a list of member physician who are currently accepting new patients.

Click here to Find a Physician.

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