15-Minute Doctor Discussions

Tips for getting the care you need in 15 minutes or less.

Did you know the average doctor’s visit is 20 minutes or less? That means you need to come prepared in order to get the care you need. Whether you have a new doctor, need help finding a new provider, or have had the same one for a decade, here are some tips to help you make the most out of your appointments.

1. Start with your top concerns.
Your doctor might get interrupted so bring up your top concerns first, and explain what’s really on your mind. But mention no more than four health issues—any more than that and it could be hard to discuss them in depth. And ask questions, these will help you understand your diagnosis and any treatment options.

2. For symptoms, focus on the 4 Ws.
That’s when, what, where and why, because often what you tell your doctor is just as useful as any test results. Explain when you first noticed the problem, when it seems to occur, when was the last time it happened, and how has it changed over time. Describe what activities or behaviors make the problem better or worse, along with your pain level on a scale of 1 to 10. Then say where on your body you’re feeling the pain or symptoms and if it’s spread to more than one place. Finally, tell why these symptoms are worrying you.

3. Be thorough with your medical history.
Your medical history includes any surgeries you’ve had, health conditions, current medications and any allergies. What most patients forget to mention are childhood illnesses and surgeries and family medical histories. These can help your doctor understand which conditions and diseases you’re most at risk for. It’s also helpful to mention what you do at work and during your leisure time because it could be important to your health.

4. Don’t skip preventive tests and screenings.
Even if you’re healthy and feeling well, preventive care is essential. The basics, such as checking your blood pressure, mammograms, Pap smears and immunizations are still important parts of your healthcare. Your doctor may recommend additional screenings based on your family medical history or age.

5. Write down any important information.
An easy way to remember what your doctor told you? Write it down. Make it your goal to leave with the DATE: diagnosis, additional tests, treatment plan and examinations and evaluations. And get your diagnosis in actual medical terms, so you have an understanding of what's happending.

6. Bring your new doctor up to speed.
If you have a new doctor, the most important visit is the first one. Use this appointment to introduce yourself and communicate your medical history (see #3 above). Also, before you make an appointment, request your medical records from your previous doctor. There might be a nominal charge but it’s worth it so the new doctor doesn’t repeat any expensive tests or procedures already performed.


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