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If you’re faced with a health problem or serious illness, you know how overwhelming it can be to visit doctors, undergo tests, and get information. In fact, it’s so overwhelming that we often walk out of the doctor’s office even more confused than when we entered.

A little advanced preparation can ensure that you make the most of the precious time with your doctor—so that you leave with answers rather than more questions.

Making the Appointment

Determine the goal for your appointment (diagnosis or referral to a specialist) and make that clear to the receptionist.

If you’re pressed for time, ask for an appointment first thing in the morning or right after lunch, as these typically have the shortest wait times. Ask what you will need to bring with you to the appointment.

Before the Appointment

Head to your appointment prepared—this will save time and also help the doctor understand your concerns. Writing things down ahead of time also saves you from having to remember details on the spot. Make a list of symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Be as thorough as possible and include date of onset as well as the duration and the severity of symptoms.

Create a timeline of the problem. If you’ve already visited other doctors, list the outcomes of those visits. If the problem is related to a previous medical issue, make a note of that. Make a list of all current medications and nutritional supplements you are taking.

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Make a list of questions you have for the doctor. Bring all necessary records with you (or have them sent), including X-rays, results of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans, blood tests, and more.Bring your insurance information with you. Arrive early to fill out any necessary paperwork before your scheduled appointment time.

During the Appointment

Communication is the key to an effective and successful doctor’s visit. Remember, the doctor is there to provide a service for you. Be sure to get all your questions answered. Consider bringing a friend or family member with you. This can ease your anxiety and provide an extra set of ears. Often when we’re under stress we’re not able to understand and retain information; a friend who is emotionally removed from the situation can take in the information more effectively. Take notes (or ask your friend to take notes).

Ask questions and clarify the answers. If you do not understand something the doctor has told you, be sure to let him or her know. Doctors sometimes assume that we understand their terminology, so it’s important to stop them if you don’t.

Summarize. At the end of the appointment, repeat back to the doctor what he or she has instructed you to do so that you can be sure you understood correctly. Determine what the next step is. Does the doctor expect you to make a follow-up appointment? Are you being referred to a specialist? Is no further action necessary once you follow treatment instructions? Find out the best way to contact the doctor.

After the Appointment

Follow the doctor’s instructions. Make any necessary follow-up  appointments. If you are confused or have further questions, be sure to call the doctor’s office immediately.

Preparing for your doctor’s appointment saves time for everyone and increases the likelihood that the doctor will be able to help you.