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12 ways to get the most from your next doctor’s appointment

Women use healthcare much more regularly than men do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says women are 33 percent more likely than men to see their doctors when something’s wrong—and that’s after the CDC excludes pregnancy-related visits from its figures.

But while most men might need a push when it comes to wellness, an even bigger question is: What are women getting from each visit? Are their concerns well thought out and clearly conveyed? Are they giving their doctors all the information they should? Are there certain “delicate” issues that some women don’t feel comfortable bringing up?

It’s laudable to visit your doctor at least annually. But it’s even better when the visit is informative and productive for both you and your practitioner. The following tips can help you open up the clearest possible line of communication with your doctor—and ensure that you receive the fullest measure of care.

Give and take

The American Medical Association endorses a policy in which both patients and physicians “make the effort to talk openly and effectively” to promote better healthcare. With this in mind, the organization suggests that you:

  1. Get ready. Think about the appointment as a business meeting. Set goals, summarize questions, gather information and records and organize your thoughts.
  2. Know what you want. Explain to the doctor your health concerns and what you hope to achieve. Do you want a diagnosis, a second opinion, help with an existing ailment, a change in your medication or a referral?
  3. Be specific. For each symptom, write down when it began, how it feels, lifestyle changes (job change, new diet, stressful event) that could explain the symptom, if it’s better or worse, if it’s constant or comes and goes, what triggers the symptom (food, exercise, weather), what relieves it and if anyone else in your family has it.
  4. List your medications. Include over-the-counter remedies, vitamins, herbs and supplements. Jot down the doses and how many times you take them.
  5. Give the whole truth. Be honest about things that affect your health, like overindulging in food or alcohol, smoking or using drugs. Remember, the things you disclose to your doctor are private, and if they embarrass you, say so. That way, your doctor will have the “big picture” of your condition.
  6. Listen and follow. Listen closely to your doctor’s instructions and follow them to the letter. Never vary from a prescribed therapy without your doctor’s prior OK. If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to repeat it.

Do’s and don’ts

A trusting relationship with your doctor is one of the most important aspects of your healthcare program. To help it flourish, use these tips to help make each visit worthwhile:

  1. Bring a friend or a relative, if needed, for support and assistance, especially if your condition is serious or you’re upset. Don’t try to take it all in; a trusted companion will help you remember your doctor’s advice and instructions.
  2. Prioritize your topics and discuss them in order of importance. That way, the most important topics are covered first. If you need extra time or a second appointment, let the office know. Don’t try to cram too many issues into one appointment.
  3. Take notes as you speak to your doctor or the office staff, especially during phone conversations.
  4. Keep good records of past treatments or medications that can help your doctor diagnose your condition.
  5. Let the doctor’s staff help you as much as they can before you ask to speak to the doctor. They are often better able to give you immediate assistance.
  6. Understand what your insurance benefits cover before making appointments or seeing specialists. You’ll avoid billing problems afterward.