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Making the most of your doctor visit

Whether you’re visiting your healthcare provider for a general health exam or you have a specific problem, your total well-being is your doctor’s primary concern. To make your office visit as thorough as possible, remember the acronym TALK before your visit. The letters stand for four steps that promote effective communication with your healthcare provider. They are:

Tell the healthcare provider everything you feel he or she needs to know. That includes those “little things” you aren’t sure are worth mentioning. If they’re not medically significant, it will be good to learn the news. On the other hand, if they’re early symptoms of an illness or condition, alerting your healthcare provider to them now will allow for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Know that you can talk with your healthcare provider about anything that affects your health— including sexual activity, domestic-abuse problems, depression and the like—in confidence and without being judged or embarrassed.

Be clear and concise in describing your concerns. If, for instance, you’re bothered by a muscle spasm, explain not only where it is and how it feels but also whether it occurs after exertion or during periods of inactivity.

Ask your healthcare provider about anything that concerns or confuses you. If you read something in a magazine or saw a news report on a particular study and are curious as to how this could affect you, feel free to ask. There are no “dumb” questions.

List your questions and concerns in advance of the visit so you won’t forget to raise important issues. Similarly, you may want to jot down the information the healthcare provider conveys to you during the visit.

Know how the healthcare provider has assessed your health and what treatment he or she has prescribed. The visit shouldn’t end until you’re confident that you understand exactly what the physician has told you and that you know precisely what he or she wants you to do. That may mean writing down comments, as noted above, having him or her draw a diagram or show you an anatomical model, or repeating his or her message in your own words.

Talking openly with your healthcare provider ensures that you will receive the best possible medical care. And if you should leave your appointment only to think of a question your healthcare provider alone can answer, don’t hesitate to make a follow-up phone call.