Making the most of your doctor's appointment

contributing columnistMarch 9, 2014 

Seeing the physician can be overwhelming. Not only do you not feel well, but you are anxious about missing work or not understanding your diagnosis. On the other hand, physicians and physician assistants want to help you get better with minimal testing and cost. Patients and health care providers can work together to maximize health outcomes with a minimum of stress.

There is an art to seeing the physician or physician assistant. Good communication is a must on both sides.

Here are some suggestions to make the most of your appointments.

Know why you are there. What are your symptoms, and when did they start? Have you tried anything to help your symptoms, and did it make them worse or better?

Be familiar with your own medical history. Keep a list of the medications you are taking, including name, dosage, and frequency (alternately, you can bring all your medicines in a plastic bag to show to the doctor or physician assistant. Even if some of your medications are over the counter, it is still important to mention them to your provider.

Make sure you bring with you lab results, X-rays, MRIs or CT scans that you think are relevant to your symptoms. This avoids costly and time-consuming duplicate testing. It can also reduce your wait time, since medical office staff won't need to call pharmacies, hospitals, and other doctor's offices for your records. You have a right to one free copy of your medical records; ask your doctor's office how to obtain them.

Write down your questions before your appointment. A physician or physician assistant sees as many as 30 patients on a typical day, but good providers will always make time to answer your questions.

The questions you ask will depend on your situation, but some suggestions include:

Can you explain my diagnosis in layman's terms?

What are my treatment options? What are the benefits of each option? What are the side effects?

Will I need a test? What is the test for? What will the results tell us?

What will the medicine you are prescribing do? How do I take it? Are there any side effects?

Do I need to change my daily routine?

If you don't understand the answers, or are confused, ask your doctor to explain them again. Take notes, or bring someone with you to your appointment to help you understand and remember what you've heard.

The best care comes when the provider and the patient work together as a team. When you are prepared for your appointment, you become your own best advocate.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A marathon spelling bee between two Kansas City-area students who exhausted the initial word list last month ended after 29 more rounds Saturday when the eventual runner-up stumbled over the word "stifling."

For more than an hour, seventh-grader Kush Sharma and fifth-grader Sophia Hoffman went toe-to-toe in the continuation of the Jackson County Spelling Bee, which began two weeks ago but had to be extended after the two breezed through the word list provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee, then 20 more words picked out of the dictionary.

Sophia appeared puzzled when attempting to spell "stifling," and even more so when the bell rang to indicate she had gotten it wrong.

After being given his final word, "definition," Kush drew chuckles from spectators watching from a different room in the Kansas City Public Library when he asked for the definition. He promptly spelled it correctly and won the bee.

"I was pretty sad when she got that word incorrect," said Kush, who now moves on to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. "That's the game, you know? It's going to come down to one person, whether you're friends or not."


Suzanne J. Fiscella is the Associate Clinical Coordinator for the University of Kentucky's College of Health Sciences, Division of Physician Assistant Studies.

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