FRIDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Whether buying a toothbrush
or a new car, it's become routine for shoppers to research before
buying so they know all the options and can strike the best
Far less often, though, do people apply those tactics to one of
their most important regular purchases: a trip to the doctor's
But medical services ought to be tackled the same way any other
purchase would be, consumer experts say.
That begins with doing a little homework before going to see a
"Understand that ordinarily appointments are not very long," said Arthur Levin, director of the nonprofit Center for Medical Consumers. "Physicians talk a lot and don't always listen. You have to organize yourself in a way that you maximize the chances that the questions you have will be heard and answered."
Write down as many details as you can about what's wrong with
you, suggests Don Powell, president and chief executive of the
American Institute for Preventive Medicine. And then take that
sheet of paper with you to the doctor's appointment.
"What the patient tells the doctor is 70 percent responsible for a correct diagnosis," Powell said. "How you describe your symptoms is beneficial in terms of enhancing your outcome."
You should note:
If you have some idea of why you're ill, you also should try
doing some research on your own, using either online resources or a
medical guidebook, Levin said.
"The more you know about your symptoms or your diagnosis, the more likely it will be that this will be a meaningful visit and you will be satisfied," Levin said. "The less you know, the less basis you have for evaluating what the physician is saying to you."
You also might want to call a nurse advice line to get another
perspective before hopping in the car, Powell said. Many hospitals
and insurance companies offer these advice lines toll-free to
patients and customers.
"Patients can actually speak to a health professional before they go to the doctor or hospital," he said. "They can be triaged over the phone."
By doing this research, you might learn that your problem could
be treated at home without the aid of a doctor. Or, you might learn
that an expensive emergency room visit is unnecessary and that the
problem can wait until a visit to your family doctor the next
Before heading out to the doctor, though, you should do one more
thing: Write down all the questions you need answered about your
illness or condition.
"Patients who write down their questions are 90 percent more likely to get them answered," Powell said. "You tend to forget things when you're in the doctor's office, and the doctor may rush you."
If your doctor prescribes a medicine, be sure to ask follow-up
questions, Levin said. "Physicians often aren't terribly inclined
to have a full discussion about the drug they are prescribing," he
said. "You need to probe." Key questions include:
And if you've been prescribed a procedure or test, ask whether
there are any risks associated with it. Also ask about the chances
that the test could produce a false positive, requiring further
testing and treatment when you're actually healthy.
Your work hasn't finished once you've left the doctor's office,
Levin said. Don't let any questions that occur to you later go
unanswered, particularly before you undergo a test or
"If you leave and later remember an important question, call up the office and tell them you forgot one important thing you want to know," he said. "You don't have to reschedule an appointment just to get an answer." Some doctors will take the time to call you back or will have a nurse call you with the answer. Other doctors will communicate by e-mail.
Powell said other tips that can save patients money and improve
their health include:
For more information
The U.S. Surgeon General has more on
creating a personal health history.
Read more about
health-care advice lines.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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