The average patient gets slightly more than twenty minutes of face time with a physician, according to the most recent National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. "Because of time restrictions, it helps for patients to be as proactive as they can," says Irene Zink, associate program director in the department of family medicine at Carolinas Medical Center. Here's a helpful checkup checklist:
Know your family tree. A thorough medical history helps your doctor know what tests to order, and when. "If your mother was diagnosed with colon cancer at age thirty-two, you should start your screenings ten years prior, at twenty-two," says Zink. Be able to list the diseases (and the age at which they were first diagnosed) for your first-degree relatives (parents, siblings).
Monitor meds. Patients often forget the names and dosages of what they're taking. They also forget to ask for refills, so check your meds, write down what you need, or, even better, bring your pill bottles with you.
Make a cheat sheet. Keep a written list of your health concerns. And put the most important things at the top of the list so if you do run out of time, at least your major concerns have been addressed.
Speak up. Don't be afraid to ask a doctor to translate medical jargon for you, or even write down a diagnosis.
Bring your date book. If you're seeing a specialist or had any kind of diagnostic work done, make sure you have the details, including contact information, handy. It's up to your primary-care physician to make sure everyone is communicating properly. And it will make it easier for you to schedule your next visit.
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