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Tips for Talking to Your Doctor

Paula S. Barry, MD, a primary care physician at Penn Family and Internal Medicine Longwood, explains how to prepare to talk with your doctor at your next visit.

Paula S. Barry, MD

Don't just choose a doctor, choose a partner

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that patients are playing a more active role in their health care. This is a great thing.

The relationship you build with your doctor is one of the most important you'll ever have. Not only should you feel comfortable talking to your physician about your diagnosis or concerns, you should feel confident he or she can guide your healthcare treatment and decisions.

Get the most out of your visit

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, scheduling your doctor’s appointment can become just another item to check off your to-do list. But once you have your appointment scheduled, you should take the time to ensure that you will get the most out of your visit.

Be prepared

If you were going into a business meeting, you’d take time to prepare beforehand. Why not do the same for your doctor’s appointment? Make a list that includes:

  • Any concerns, symptoms or reasons for your visit
  • Your health history, including recent x-rays, scans, lab results; as well as surgeries
  • Any medical diagnosis, which is the cause for your visit
  • Name of physicians or specialists you see
  • All medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements
  • Any medication allergies

Goals for Healthy Living and Appointment Checklist

Although you may think that doctors only treat what they can see, symptoms don’t have to be just physical. They can also involve your thoughts and feelings, so don’t be afraid to mention if you’re feeling depressed, forgetful, confused a lot, etc.

If you’re a new patient or have had a recent change in your health, it’s important to bring in previous records/diagnostic imaging or test results. This way, the physician can gather data to best suit your needs.

Ask questions

Remember, you are your own best advocate. If you don’t understand the treatment plan or reason for a certain medication or test, just ask. You need to make sense of what’s going on with you, and your doctor should know if you don’t understand something. You might even consider bringing a friend or family member to your appointment, if you think it will help you better understand or remember the diagnosis and treatment options.Physician meeting with a patient

Most offices are also now using and providing patients access to electronic health records, such as myPennMedicine. Within this patient portal, you may be given a summary of your visit at its conclusion, which typically displays your vital signs, diagnosis, recommended tests and follow-up. This is just another way to help you stay informed, keep in touch with your care team and play a vital role in your healthcare.

Follow up with your doctor

Make sure you follow any instructions your doctor provided during the appointment, like taking medicine, scheduling a test or scheduling an appointment with a specialist.

Your relationship with your doctor shouldn’t end once you leave the office. If you’re uncertain about anything mentioned during your visit or have questions about your treatment plan, contact him or her immediately. If you had any tests done and didn’t hear back or are feeling worse since starting any new medications, reach out. Any successful relationship requires communication.

Take it from someone who is a physician: Most doctors are happy to spend time with you and answer questions. We’re appreciative of patients that take an active role in their health and it all starts with a little preparation and a few direct questions.

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