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Keywords: Participatory medicine, patient-physician communication, quality of care, shared decision making, patient portal, medication side effects.
Citation: Graedon J, Graedon T. Making every second count — what we can do as patients. J Participat Med. 2012 Apr 4; 4:e8.
Published: April 4, 2012.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Let’s face it, the good old days when you could schmooze with your doctor are long gone. The 30-minute office visit has disappeared along with the mercury thermometer.

Reduced reimbursements have put many doctors on a treadmill that seems to keep running faster. They have to see more patients more efficiently. That cuts down on the amount of time we have with our health care providers, so we have to make every second count.

As Dr. Charlie Smith writes in a previous editorial, the best way to prepare for any doctor’s visit is to make a prioritized list of symptoms, questions, and concerns. If you have a specific goal in mind, be sure to let your provider know. You might, for example, want adequate blood pressure control without the side effect of constant cough. The most important three or four items should be at the very top of your notes. Include an up-to-date list of all medications and dietary supplements with dosing details. During the visit, verify that your physician has understood you by asking her to succinctly summarize what she has heard.

It is hard to remember every detail of a doctor’s visit, especially if there was any bad news. That’s why it is helpful to have an advocate with you who can listen attentively and take note of all the key information. If that’s not feasible, ask the provider if you could use your smartphone or another device to record the conversation so you can review it later.

If a medication is recommended, ask the prescriber to write down the most common side effects and any symptoms that might signal a worrisome complication. Then, when you pick the medicine up, be sure to review the key information with the pharmacist, including detailed instructions on how to take it and any interactions that might occur with your other meds. You can also get more information online from or the NIH’s MedlinePlus.

If there are any remaining items on your list at the end of your visit, give the full list to your doctor and point out that you were unable to cover all of your concerns. That way the doctor can take a few seconds to make sure that there is nothing crucial that has been delayed for the next visit.

Find out when the results of any laboratory tests will be available. Find out whom to contact if you are not notified within the specified time frame. Do not assume that no news is good news. Doctors’ offices do not always manage to make notifications in a timely fashion.

The most important part of any doctor visit is the followup. Your physician needs to know if you have any trouble following the treatment plan, whether because of side effects or other problems. Before leaving the office, find out how your provider prefers to receive this information (health portal, email, telephone, or other medium). This is a critical step toward achieving your health goals.

Copyright: © 2012 Joe Graedon and Terry Graedon. Published here under license by The Journal of Participatory Medicine. Copyright for this article is retained by the author, with first publication rights granted to the Journal of Participatory Medicine. All journal content, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. By virtue of their appearance in this open-access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings.