Getting the most out of a doctor's visit

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 1:56 p.m.
Have you ever left your doctor's office with the feeling that you didn't quite say everything you wanted to? I hear comments from friends and colleagues who have had the experience more than once.
Sometimes, parents of little ones are so involved with the process of getting through the visit that they forget a question they intended to get answered during the visit.
A feeling that there is something wrong but not bad enough for a doctor's visit may be tucked away in the "next time I go to the doctor I will mention this" file, and forgotten until after the visit has occurred.
Don't worry, you are not alone. Maybe you need a game plan that will help you get all of your questions answered. Some of the cause may be related to the fast track that you are subjected to once you are in the doctor's office.
Don't let me confuse you here. I don't mean fast track as in from waiting room to eye-to-eye contact with the doctor. I am referring instead to the time that the doctor is actually in the room with you. You've seen the receptionist, the nurse or in some situations the medical technician, and are now waiting for the doctor. Problem is, more waiting is likely to occur at this time as well. By now, you have read the interesting items in the magazines, prepared the speech you will give to the doctor, rehearsed it a few times, taken a little nap, (people my age of course), and wondered more than once how long before the little knock would announce the doctor at your door. f-z So the doctor comes in wearing a white coat, and you, by the way, are wearing one of those paper deals that don't quite cover everything. There seems to be a loss of equality at this time and the doctor gains the upper hand. You don't quite feel as if you are calling the shots, (no pun intended).
The doctor's day is set up on a timeline, which allows a specific number of visits for the day. How much of that time is yours? In some cases it's 15 minutes. It is my understanding that the national average is around 21 minutes.
Most visits won't require all of the time allotted for your visit. But when they do, you should feel comfortable asking your questions. Talk about the things that are bothering you the most. Don't waste your time on non-essential information. If you have been feeling as if your heart is skipping a beat, don't linger on the cold that is already getting better.
Don't assume that your doctor remembers everything about your history, especially if you see several doctors. Give a brief update of the portion of your history that relates to the reason for your visit. Bring along a list of your medications or the medication itself.
Having the prescription bottle will also help you when you are given that clipboard with all of the long forms. Along with the name of the medication, it is helpful to know the strength (usually in milligrams) and the amount and time for each medication. All of this information is readily available on the bottle.
Consider yourself most knowledgeable about the reason for your visit. Feel free to bring along a partner to help you remember questions or supply information. I particularly suggest the second person if you are the caregiver for an elderly family member.
Another key time may be when (please forgive me men) your husband goes to the doctor. It seems that the wife's memory of her husband's symptoms in most instances may be a little more accurate than his.
Ask the doctor if you will be able to contact him/her by e-mail or phone if you have additional questions that were not brought up during your visit. If new medications or instructions are unclear, don't hesitate to call back right away. If the new medicine is suppose to make you feel better, what happens when it doesn't? Be sure to ask this question so that you don't go home and decide not to take any more of the medication because you don't like the way you are feeling afterward. It helps if you know what to expect so that you can let the doctor know if this is working for you.
The visit to your doctor is not an adversarial one. Consider yourself to be in a partnership with your caregiver, equal and ready to participate in making decisions about your health. To make sure you are up to the challenge: Write down your questions before you go. Ask, when necessary, the following questions: Which tests are being done and why; are there alternatives; what is your diagnosis; what is your treatment plan; what medications will you take, what are the expected effects and side effects; and if you should call in for test results or will the doctor call you.
Keep in mind that when all is said and done, the doctor will ask for more information if you have not supplied what is needed to handle the problems that you describe.
Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing, Santa Fe Community College. Write to her in care of the Gainesville Guardian, "Health Files," 2700 SW 13th St., Gainesville, FL 32608. You can also e-mail your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to

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