Getting in to see a doctor takes time. Getting the most out of your doctor’s time takes something more: an inquisitive approach.
On average, doctors spend a mere 13 to 16 minutes per patient, according to a recent MedScape survey of more than 19,000 physicians.
To get the most out of your appointment, take an active role in setting the agenda for which health issues to cover.
Here are 10 to get you started from Dr. David Hilden, an internal medicine physician in Minneapolis:
1. Which health websites do you trust?
With so many people Googling their symptoms in search of a diagnosis, it’s wise to vet the information you’ve gleaned online with your doctor.
The most credible websites are the ones that are less commercial. Government sites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer reliable information. In general, the best health websites are associated with a respected university or health care system.
2. What is this medication I’m taking, and why am I taking it?
It’s a common problem — people come in taking a lot of medications, and they’ve lost track of what each one is for and when they were first prescribed it. A good follow-up question is: “Are there any medications I can stop?”
If your doctor prescribes a new medication, you should ask about typical side effects and about how it will interact with your existing medications.
3. How can I get help to stop smoking?
Quitting smoking is really hard, but a brief counseling session with a doctor increases your chances of success.
Your doctor can steer you to helpful tools and greatly improve your overall wellness.
4. Are my vaccinations and screenings up to date?
The things that keep you healthy are your vaccinations and screenings. If you’re a woman, ask if you are getting appropriate breast cancer screening. Regardless of gender, ask if you should be getting a colonoscopy. Other valuable health screenings include regularly checking blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
5. What is a healthy weight for me, and how can I get to that?
With two-thirds of the country tipping the scales as overweight or obese, weight is a hefty health concern for most of us. But many people don’t know what a good weight is for them, while others have unrealistic goals about their weight. Getting the facts from your doctor, as well as some evidence-based tips on how to maintain a healthy weight, is an important first step in reaching your weight goals.
6. What do you do to stay in shape?
Some doctors are reserved in sharing information about themselves with patients, but asking what works for them in terms of eating right and exercising can yield tangible advice.
7. If you’re prescribed an opioid painkiller, ask: Is it really necessary, and what else can I do to relieve pain?
Despite growing awareness about the addictive powers of prescription opioid painkillers, the epidemic continues. For the vast majority of people seeking pain relief, it is best to avoid taking opioid medications altogether.
Instead, ask about other treatment options for pain relief, such as acupuncture, yoga or non-opiate pain medications.
8. What are some things I can do before my next appointment that would help my health?
This question is especially helpful if you regularly see your doctor for chronic diseases. For a patient with Type 2 diabetes, for instance, a short-term goal might be to reduce blood sugar levels by one percentage point before the next doctor’s visit.
9. If a doctor orders a test, ask: What is it for? What are you looking for?
Asking these questions can spark a more thoughtful discussion about your symptoms and include you in the decision-making process.
10. If your doctor recommends a particular treatment, ask: What are some alternative treatments?
In some cases, there are several treatment options, and patients who are aware of them — as well as of the risks and chances of success — are in the best position to be satisfied with their treatment decision.