How many times have you rushed—or been rushed—through a doctor's visit, leaving you with unanswered questions or unresolved fears that your condition might have required, well... one more test? Jay Adlersberg, M.D., a sports medicine internist in New York City and medical consultant for ABC-TV News, offers these tips to improve your doctor-patient relationship, as well as your health:
Be prepared. Make sure you have your paperwork, insurance card, and/or copayment with you.
Do your homework. If you have a chronic condition, read all available materials (and bring them to your appointment for reference) so that you'll be up-to-date on the latest treatments.
Take notes. Jotting down some questions will ensure that important concerns are not overlooked. Ask about the nature of blood tests that your doctor orders and whether any other specific tests are necessary. If your family has a history of heart disease, for example, you might want to request a cholesterol test, advises Dr. Adlersberg.
Dig up your medical records. If you are seeing a doctor for the first time, bring along charts from your previous doctors, a family medical history, and an itemization of major illnesses. Also tote a list of prescription, over-the-counter, and homeopathic medications you're taking or have used in the past, as well as those that have provoked allergic reactions.
Buddy up. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, you may not be capable of listening carefully to the doctor's instructions or diagnosis, says Dr. Adlersberg. "Sometimes it is good to go with a friend or relative who can remember and interpret instructions for you." And, if you are nervous or uncomfortable about the procedure, you may feel more at ease if this person is present.
Know what a full exam should entail. During a complete checkup, women of any age should have a rectal exam at their regular gynecologist visit to detect any abnormalities, in addition to a breast self-examination and a mammogram every year after age 40 (35 if breast cancer runs in your family). "And for men, particularly after the age of 35, an annual rectal exam to check for colon cancer is a necessary part of an annual checkup," says Dr. Adlersberg.
Tell all. Be forthcoming about your concerns, anxieties, and expectations. Share any changes you have noticed in your body, as well as the medications and vitamins you've taken in the past to alleviate symptoms. "And don't be embarrassed to let the doctor know you are using homeopathic treatments; many use them themselves," says Dr. Adlersberg.
Seek clarity. "Make sure your doctor explains your condition in layperson's terms so that you understand everything completely," says Dr. Adlersberg. "Ask for the brand name and generic name of the medications he/she is prescribing, what each medication is supposed to do, and the possible side effects of each."
Speak up. If you're not satisfied with the treatment you got at your doctor's office, inform your insurer. As a customer, you're entitled to the best care for your money.