Taking an active role in your health care will help your doctor personalize prevention and treatment plans around you. Consider these steps to ensure you get the most out of your time together.

Before your appointment

Gather your family’s medical history

Your family’s medical history can provide useful insight on your risk for certain diseases or conditions, such as cancer, stroke or heart disease. Share this information with your doctor — he or she may recommend more frequent screenings or other preventive measures to keep you healthy.

Make a list of your medications

While your doctor might have a list of your medications on file, you might be seeing more than one doctor or some items may not be included. List the names of all of the medications you are taking, including the dosage and the times of day you take them. The list should also include over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements and birth control. This information can prevent interactions with any new treatment or medications.

Keep track of your symptoms

Keeping a diary or a list of your symptoms will help you efficiently and accurately articulate your concerns during the appointment. Write down each symptom and describe what it feels like, when it started, what triggers it, how frequently you experience it, how long it lasts and what alleviates it. If applicable, rate pain on a scale of one to 10.

Write out your questions

The act of writing down your questions can help you organize your thoughts for the appointment. You may have several items you want to cover, or you might want to be sure to mention a particular detail. Prioritize your questions ahead of time so you can use the appointment time wisely.

Transfer your medical records

Most health care providers in Wisconsin have transitioned to electronic medical records or are in the process of doing so. If you are a new patient, arrange for any test results and other records to be sent to the doctor ahead of time.

During your appointment

Be honest

Your doctor is a person you can confide in. Now is the time to share any health issues or concerns. When your doctor has all of the information, he or she can tailor a care plan to your needs. Some topics are sensitive, but they are still important. Examples include depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, financial instability or a spouse who is not supportive of your health goals. Sometimes, people are more comfortable sharing through a computer. Within the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, we use a tool to enhance communications called PatientWisdom, a secure website that allows patients to share personal stories with their care team.

However you choose to communicate, the relationship you build with your doctor is important. Be prepared for open and honest dialogue to get the most out of your time together.

Take notes

At the beginning of the appointment, tell your doctor you have a list of questions. This will help guide your time together. Listen to his or her responses and take notes, or bring along a loved one who can write the responses down for you. Ask your doctor if it is okay for you to take an audio recording. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need clarification.

Know how to contact your doctor

Ask your doctor how he or she prefers to communicate. Should you need to follow up, having this information readily available will help you get answers as soon as possible.

After your appointment

Contact your doctor’s office if you have questions or concerns, if you start to feel worse or if you have problems with your medications. If you call, ask to leave a message for your doctor, or ask to speak to a nurse. Some doctor prefer emails. You can also ask your doctor a question by sending him or her a message through MyChart, the online patient portal.

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John R. Schreiber, MD, MPH, President, Froedtert & MCW Community Physicians
About the Author

John R. Schreiber, MD, MPH, President, Froedtert & MCW Community Physicians, with 40 Froedtert & MCW Health Centers throughout Southeastern Wisconsin; CEO, Medical College Physicians; Professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology/Immunology; Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs; Medical College of Wisconsin.

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