When scheduling your appointment, be sure to tell the office assistant why you're coming in, whether it's for an annual checkup or a specific health problem. This could actually affect how much time they block out for you, says Patricia Agnew, author of How to Talk to Your Doctor: Getting the Answers and Care You Need (Quill Driver Books). Then do a little prep work: A lot of precious time during appointments is spent taking or updating your health history. Ask the receptionist if she can send you forms to fill out ahead of time or if you can download them from the Web. Or create your own document by writing down the medications and supplements you take (include name, strength and dosage), any drug allergies, past surgeries, basic family history and current diagnoses. Your doctor can scan it quickly and move on to your immediate concerns.
Next, organize your thoughts by making a list of your health questions or complaints. Consider this your "agenda" during the appointment, says Barbara M. Korsch, M.D., coauthor of The Intelligent Patient's Guide to the Doctor-Patient Relationship: Learning How to Talk So Your Doctor Will Listen (Oxford University Press). "You wouldn't go into any other important meeting without a plan, so be prepared," she says. If you have a chronic issue, keep a detailed record (at least three days) of your symptoms and when they occur. For example, if you have indigestion, write down when it happens, how long it lasts and what foods and drinks you had that day. Have chronic pain or discomfort? Jot down when it happens, what makes it better or worse, and what it feels like (such as throbbing, burning or aching), says Kim Alumbaugh, M.D., an ob-gyn in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky. The morning of your appointment take an eyebrow pencil and literally draw a circle around where the pain is—so your doctor doesn't have to spend time poking around. Finally, do some research ahead of time on your symptoms or condition. You'll be informed and won't have to ask basic questions.