Have you ever left an appointment with your doctor, confused about the next steps or wishing you’d brought something up? You’re not alone.
“A lot needs to happen in our short time together,” says Robert F. Raspa, M.D., a family physician and faculty member with St. Vincent’s Family Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida, noting that the average time a doctor spends with a patient is 22 minutes. But if you come prepared to the appointment with questions and a game plan, you’re far more likely to exit the office with a better understanding of your health and what to do next. Use these top tips for making the most of any checkup with your physician.
Tip #1: Prioritize
Write down your top concerns and questions before your appointment and show them to the doctor first thing. “Letting me see your list will help me prioritize our time together,” says Dr. Raspa. It also means you’re less likely to forget something you wanted to ask or have checked out.
Tip #2: Rehearse
“Many of my older patients take a long time to give me the background of their concern,” says Dr. Raspa. “I don’t say that to be critical—it’s just how older generations process and share information.” While he admits to enjoying the stories, he says the best way to maximize your time with your doctor is to lead off with the vitals—where it hurts, when it hurts, how long the pain lasts, and how it’s affecting your daily life. At home, practice describing your concern in a way that focuses on those bits of key information.
Tip #3: Speak Up!
Don’t be afraid to bring up sensitive topics with your doctor. It may feel like a blow to your ego to admit that your muscles are feeling weaker or that you fell down at home, but those are issues that your doctor wants to hear about and help you with, says Dr. Raspa. The same goes with any change in your sexual health or issues such as incontinence or constipation. “Those topics are never fun to talk about,” he says, “but we’ve heard it all before. You won’t shock us.”
Tip #4: Bring a Friend
Bright lights, a cold exam room, a flimsy gown, medical jargon … it can all add up to be an awkward and sometimes confusing experience. Ask a trusted family member or friend to come with you and give them a task. “The best thing your loved one can do is take notes for you,” Dr. Raspa says. “Give them permission ahead of time to speak up and ask questions. Doctors often won’t ask you if you understand because you’re sitting there nodding as if you do. So many times, it’s the partner who’ll inquire about the tests I’m ordering or who’ll ask for details about the medication I’m prescribing.”
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