Your provider's ability to determine what is wrong and how to treat it depends almost entirely on communication.
From scheduling an appointment to wrapping up your visit, effective communication will help ensure that you get what you need. Here are a few communication tips:
The communication during this step is crucial. When making an appointment with your physician, nurse practitioner, or integrative provider, explain the reason for the appointment, so the receptionist knows how much time you'll need. Be as clear as possible but remember that you don't need to give a full health history or disclose any private information.
Here are some good examples:
Feel unsure about whether or not you actually need to see a healthcare provider? Then speak to a nurse or to someone who can help evaluate your concern and determine when you should schedule an appointment.
In other words, ask for what you need on the front end, and your time with your provider will be more useful.
If you are seeing a new provider, bring a copy of your healthcare records and the results of any previous tests or procedures. Remember to keep copies of these records for yourself, just in case you are asked to leave the documents you bring to your appointment.
It is important to remember that your healthcare records belong to you. You have a right to your own medical information and may request this from any provider or hospital.
This is particularly helpful when people are seeing multiple providers for complex health issues. Consider putting together a notebook or filing system to maintain all of your records in an orderly fashion.
Even better, create an online personal health record. Learn more in Create a Personal Health Record .
It is also crucial to regularly review all of the information in your provider and insurance company records to make sure it is accurate. Here are some simple things you can do to verify the accuracy of the records:
Since the average doctor's appointment is about fifteen minutes, it is helpful to prepare for your visit. Write a list of your concerns and use it to jog your memory. Include the following information.
Preparing for Your Appointment Form (Print )
It is important to have the chance to discuss your health while you are comfortable in your street clothes (prior to disrobing and having an examination).
Even if you feel worried, anxious, or embarrassed about your health concern, don't wait until the end of the visit to bring up your real reason for the appointment or the provider won't have time to deal with it.
For example, a woman went in to the doctor for treatment of cold symptoms, but during the last two minutes of the appointment informed the doctor that she was going through a painful divorce, was highly anxious, and couldn't sleep. This was the real reason that she wanted to see the doctor, but since she didn't bring it up until the end of the visit there wasn't enough time for the doctor to explore the issue with her.
Remember, your provider is legally bound to confidentiality and privacy. And most likely, s/he has "seen it all," and won't be surprised by any of your story.
Using acupuncture  for pain management? Tell your physical therapist. Thinking about trying valerian to help your insomnia? Share this with your general practitioner.
Healthcare practitioners can often tell you how your therapies might complement one another, or offer you vital information about how certain treatment combinations might be less healthy or even dangerous.
Whatever treatment you're using or planning to try, whether it's integrative or conventional, always let everyone involved with your health care know about everyone and everything you are accessing to address your needs.
Whether you bring someone with you to your appointment is up to you. For a routine visit, it may not be necessary to bring a friend or family member with you.
On the other hand, if you are feeling anxious or concerned, have a language barrier, are facing a challenging diagnosis, or anticipate discussing treatment options, it may be helpful to have someone with you. Choose someone who is a good listener and who won't interrupt, dominate the visit or ask too many of their own questions.
The person who accompanies you on your visit can be another set of ears. This will help you remember after the appointment what was said. It is often helpful to have this person write information down so that you have a written record of what was discussed or done.
Even with routine examinations or check-ups, be sure you understand the results before you leave.
Results of the Appointment Form (Print )
If you have been given a prescription or other type of medication, know the following.
Medication Questions Form (Print )
Sometimes a visit to your healthcare provider turns out to be anything but routine. If you are diagnosed with a serious disorder, emotions like confusion and fear might make communicating with your physician even tougher.
The following checklists, based on the work of Tara Parker-Pope, offers basic inquiries you should make if you receive some difficult health news.
Need for Surgery Checklist (Print )
In order to better assess surgery-related risk, you should ask the following questions. The first question is for your primary care provider, the rest are for surgeons you are considering.
Cancer Diagnosis Checklist (Print )
If you have received a cancer diagnosis, it is important to ask your doctor the following questions (and ask the same questions when seeking a second opinion):
Heart Attack Risk Checklist (Print )
In order to better assess your heart-attack risk, you should ask the following questions:
Be smart about your healthcare appointments. Bring the information your provider will need to the appointment, including healthcare records if necessary. Address the key issues early in the visit and be prepared to explain the symptoms clearly. Don't leave until you understand what the provider tells you and what you need to do next.
American Medical Association. American Medical Association Guide to Talking to Your Doctor. John Wiley and Sons, NY. 2001.
Parker-Pope, T. Wall Street Journal. 2005. Published in the Minneapolis Star & Tribune:
Medline Plus  offers a number of articles, including Getting the Most Out of Your A Visit to Your Doctor and Tips for Talking to Healthcare Professionals. There are a number of resources for specific health situations, such as cancer and heart disease.
The Harvard Medical School  offers lists of questions to ask for specific situations.
The National Institute on Aging  suggests ways to discuss health concerns, medicines, and issues important to older people.
The Center for Advancing Health offers a resource guide for Becoming a Prepared Patient .
Check your healthcare savvy. Print the checklist  below and fill it out.
|Do you know how to request your medical records?|
|Do you have a personal copy of your medical records?|
|Do you plan what you want to talk about before your appointment?|
|Do you have a list of all the medications and supplements you are taking?|
|Do you tell your provider all the medications, supplements, and treatments you are taking/using?|
|Do you make sure you understand what the provider is telling you and what you need to do next?|
If you don't do some of these tasks, use the forms and checklists in this section to help you get started. It doesn't take much time to get organized and take charge!