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How to make the most of your provider's visit

A medical technician from the 460th Medical Group takes blood pressure from a patient. (U.S. Air Force file image)

A medical technician from the 460th Medical Group takes blood pressure from a patient. (U.S. Air Force file image)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Fifteen minutes. Except for unusual or complicated cases, that's about how much time most providers get to spend with patients during an average appointment. The upside is that providers can actually see, treat and help many people in a typical day, but it also means that both provider and patient need to be as efficient as possible to get the most out of that precious quarter-hour. If you come prepared for the visit, we can both do a better job. Here's how:

Before your visit, gather the facts
Be ready with the details of your current medications, recent test results and your medical history. Make a list of prescription drugs as well as any over-the-counter medicines or herbal medications you may have been taking.

Next, be sure to bring copies of your latest X-ray or MRI reports or any other test results, including reports from specialists you've seen. Include the specialists' contact information - phone numbers, e-mail addresses and so forth. As a provider treating you, I want to be sure that any treatment I provide works with, and not against, what your other providers are recommending.

Get your history straight - your medical history and your family's. Your provider needs to know about any previous hospitalizations, as well as old or current medical problems, even if they are not the reason you are going to the provider this time.

If you have diabetes, record your daily blood sugar measurement and bring along your log.

If you have high blood pressure, get a series of readings at home during the week prior to your visit so your doctor can gauge whether your numbers have spiked just because you are in a busy medical clinic--a phenomenon known as "white coat hypertension."

On the day of the visit, prepare yourself
Bring any secondary medical insurance cards with you; the clinic can receive third-party reimbursement.

Sit down and think about what you want to get out of the visit. This is the time to understand that your 15 minutes cannot address everything. You may have five or six issues on your mind, but realistically you are going to have time to deal with, at most, your top three. Decide what these are before going in.

Consider making a second appointment if you believe your issues are complicated or so numerous as to require the extra time. The important point is to set your own priorities for the day you walk into the office.

Show up 15 minutes early and be prepared to fill out some forms.

Seeing the provider: your time to be heard
Start with your most pressing questions right away, the ones you've thought about beforehand. This is not the time to be shy. When recounting your symptoms, be as specific as you can.

Your provider will guide you with questions, but try to be accurate: When exactly did the pain start? What part of the body is affected most? How long does the pain last? Be as descriptive as possible: Is the pain sharp? Does it have a burning quality, or is it dull? Try to remember and report colors, smells, intensity. Every bit of information is important in order to get to the bottom of your condition.

You've done your job as a patient. Now it's the provider's turn. You should expect to leave your appointment knowing the answers to three questions: What is wrong? Why? What can I do about it? In reality, your provider may not have the definitive answers yet. Tests may be ordered and follow-ups scheduled. But you should at least be given an idea of what the provider thinks is going on and what treatments may be possible.

Know what to ask
If your provider recommends a certain procedure, you should find out:
- Why do I need it?
- How is it carried out?
- How risky is it?
- Is there an alternative?
- Who is going to do it?
- Where will it be done?
- How fast will I get back to normal life?
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