Through blogs and comments, patients and experts explore what it takes to find good health care and make the most of it.

How to Make the Most of Your Doctor Visit


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I recently wrote about how common it is for those who work in and deliver health care – physicians, nurses, clinics and hospitals – to overestimate our knowledge about our bodies, our illnesses and how the health care system works. This overestimation of our familiarity happens with even the most seemingly simple and straightforward aspects of care, such as: Who is the nurse practitioner? Where is Dr. X's office? When is "soon"? Why are you recommending this test?

To help people find good health care and make the most of it, CFAH has created a library of Be a Prepared Patient tips and resources including two videos. The two-minute video below shares tips for How to Make the Most of Your Doctor Visit by explaining how to effectively describe your symptoms in four key steps. Being prepared with this information will allow you and your doctor to discuss the best treatment for you, including next steps.



[Edited video transcript] Over the years, we've listened to hundreds of people discuss their experiences with their health and health care. One thing that seems to come up for many people is how hard it can be to find good health care and make the most of it, which includes knowing what to do at a doctor's appointment. The following tips can help.

Whether it's your first visit or your tenth, there are things you can do to maximize your time with your clinician. Office exams for most routine problems are usually very short. You may have just a few minutes to describe your concerns. So when the doctor or nurse practitioner asks, "What brings you here today?" they're looking for very specific information.

Giving a clear description of your problem will help your doctor figure out what's wrong and how to address it. Even if you're feeling embarrassed about the problem or your symptoms, you can trust that your doctor has likely seen it before. You should be prepared to tell your doctor or nurse practitioner these four things during your appointment:

First, tell the doctor why you are there.

Start with one or two sentences that sum up what's bothering you. This short description should include when or how your problem started or when you first noticed it. Be as specific as possible: Just saying it hurts is not enough. Use descriptive words like sharp, dull, tight, itchy or aching to describe how you feel. It may help to rate your pain or discomfort on a scale of one to ten. For example: "I'm here today because I fell last week and I have a constant, throbbing pain in my knee."

Second, describe how your problem affects your daily life.

Include your ability to sleep, to work or to eat. Describe any changes in your energy level or your ability to get around. For example: "I can't walk up or down the stairs anymore."

Third, explain everything you have tried to make your problem go away.

You might say: "I put an ice pack on my knee in the evenings and take aspirin three times a day." If you haven't tried or taken anything, tell your doctor that as well.

Fourth, you should tell your doctor if you've noticed any patterns or changes.

For example, "My knee hurts worse in the mornings and is now red and warm to the touch."

Being prepared with these details before your appointment, and giving your doctor a clear description of your problem, how your daily life is affected, what you've tried and patterns or changes you've noticed, can help get you started on the road to recovery. For more videos, such as Working With Your Doctor's Office, and additional health care resources, visit the Be a Prepared Patient section of our website.

More Blog Posts by Jessie Gruman

author bio

Jessie C. Gruman, PhD, was founder and president of the Center for Advancing Health from 1992 until her death in July 2014. Her experiences as a patient — having been diagnosed with five life-threatening illnesses — informed her perspective as an author, advocate and lead contributor to the Prepared Patient Blog. Her book, AfterShock, helps patients and caregivers navigate their way through the health care system following a serious or life-threatening diagnosis. The free app, AfterShock: Facing a Serious Diagnosis, offers a pocket guide based on the book. | More about Jessie Gruman

Tags for this article:
Patient Engagement   Communicate with your Doctors  

Comments on this post
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kkollross says
April 29, 2014 at 4:06 PM

It really can't be understated the importance of coming prepared to a doctor's appointment. I work as a patient advocate and part of that role includes counseling patients on how to make the most of their limited time with their doctor. We suggest that patients create a list of questions or issues that they would like to discuss and then have them prioritize these issues. By attending the appointment with a list that is already prepared, the patient is less likely to forget to bring up an important issue and will get more from the appointment.