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Handbook for Mortals : Talking With Your Doctor

Getting the most out of each visit with your doctor

You can prepare for your visit in a way that helps you get the information you need, and manage the information you get.

Prepare a list of questions and concerns that you want to discuss
This should include any new or changed symptoms that you have experienced since your last visit. It should also include any major changes or stresses in your life such as changes in your living arrangements, difficulties getting your medicines, or the death of a loved one. Number the items on the list so you know which are the most important to talk about.
Consider bringing a family member or friend to help you.
You may need only moral support or company in the waiting room, but having help is good. You may forget to ask something important (especially if you didn't put it on your list!) You may wait longer than usual and feel too tired to drive yourself home. And, if you get test results or treatment recommendations, it is helpful to have someone there to help you remember many of the details of what was said.
Bring all of your medicines or a list of all of your medicines.
Although you may think your doctor knows everything you are taking, sometimes things get left out of the chart. This happens often when a patient is being seen by more than one doctor and information about test results or new medications hasn't gotten from one doctor to the other yet. Bring any vitamins, nutritional supplements, or herbal medicines you are taking, too. While these usually do not require a prescription, they can still interact with other medicines you may be taking.
Set your priorities for the doctor's time.
At the beginning of the visit ask, "How much time do you have for me today?" Then, address the issues on your list, beginning with the most important one. If you are not going to cover everything on the list in the time available ask, "How can I get 30 minutes (or whatever you need) to talk about the concerns I have that we don 't have time for today?" This lets the doctor know that you have more concerns and that you are aware of the time constraints he may be facing.
Be honest.
Telling the doctor what you think she wants to hear will not help her to help you. It is natural to want to seem to be improving, sometimes for your own well-being and other times to feel like a "good" patient. But this will only result in less than the best therapy for you.
Be honest about your priorities.
It is often easier for doctors and patients to talk about medicines and treatments than it is to talk about what is really happening in the course of an eventually fatal illness. Do not be afraid to say, "We have talked a lot about the side effects and the schedule for the next round of chemotherapy. I really want to hear from you what it means that there is almost no change in the tumor."
Ask questions.
If you have questions about anything your doctor says, ask! Ask what unfamiliar words mean, why you need a certain test, or what to expect from a new medicine. Ask what new treatments and medicines are supposed to do to help you and how likely it is they will do what they are supposed to do. Ask whether the therapy being recommended is supposed to treat symptoms or prolong life. Ask what side effects you might experience. Ask what is likely to happen to you if you do not try the therapy. And do not hesitate to ask about the cost if that is of concern to you.
Take notes.
Be sure to bring pencil or pen and paper to record the doctor's answers to your questions. You can assign this task to whomever comes with you if note-taking is hard for you or if you want to concentrate on talking to the doctor.
Repeat what the doctor tells you, in your own words.
Nothing tells you or your doctor what you think he said better than to say it back in your own words. "If I understood what you just said, then I should increase my pain medicine to 120 milligrams every twelve hours and call back day after tomorrow if that doesn't help." This allows you to uncover and correct any misunderstandings.
Make contingency plans.
Doctors can't predict every symptom or complication that you might experience, but they should be able to tell you the major ones. And the ones you already have may change over time. Ask the doctor what to expect and what to do if you have a problem. Do you take more medicine? Do you call the office? What if it is 3 AM? Asking these questions and planning in advance can save you frantic trips to the emergency room when you have a problem.

To learn more about the book "Handbook for Mortals" click here.