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How to make the most of your doctor's visit

BY JIM MILLER, Savvy Senior Published: May 7, 2012
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Dear Savvy Senior:

Can you write a column educating patients on how to prepare for doctors appointments? I manage a number of small health clinics, and have found that patients – especially seniors – that come prepared when they visit our doctors are much more satisfied with the care they receive.

Thanks for your help.

-- Patient Educator

Dear Educator:

You’re right. Studies have shown that patients who help their doctors by providing important health information and preparing themselves for appointments tend to get better care than patients who don’t.

Here are some simple things we can all do to help maximize our next visit to the doctor.

Before your appointment

Gathering your health information and getting organized before your appointment are the key steps to ensuring a productive meeting with your doctor.

This is especially important if you’re seeing multiple doctors or are meeting with a new physician for the first time. Specifically, you need to:

* Get your test results: Make sure the doctor you’re seeing has copies of your latest X-ray, MRI or any other test or lab results, including reports from other doctors that you’ve seen.

In most cases, you’ll need to do the leg work yourself which may only require a phone call to your previous doctor asking them to send it, or you may need to go pick it up and take it yourself.

* List your medications: Make a list of all the medications you’re taking (prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements) along with the dosages and take it with you to your appointment.

Or, just gather up all you pill bottles and put them in a bag and bring them with you.

* Gather your health history: Your doctor also needs to know about any previous hospitalizations, as well as any current or past medical problems, even if they are not the reason you are going to the doctor this time.

Genetics matter too, so having your family’s health history can be helpful. The U.S. Surgeon General offers a free web-based tool called “My Family Health Portrait” (see familyhistory.hhs.gov) that can help you put one together.

* Prepare a list of questions: Make a written list of the top three or four issues you want to discuss with your doctor.

Since most appointments last between 10 and 15 minutes, this can help you stay on track and ensure you address your most pressing concerns first.

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