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Dozens of studies show that patients have better health outcomes when their physicians are effective and empathetic communicators and good listeners.  Doctors today may see up to 25 patients in a single day. That small window of time allotted for your appointment means you need to take an active role in making your time together count.  

Here are some steps you can take to help you and your doctor improve communication, transparency and your overall health care.

Ask questions and question answers.

Your appointment is your dedicated time to be transparent and honest with your doctor. Make it a point to talk openly and share any new symptoms you are experiencing or any crisis or extreme stress in your life. Inform your doctor of every medications or supplements you are taking and any side effects from certain prescription drugs.  Doctors want to know everything that is going on from your past medical history, to changes in your diet, to sleep issues.

A visit to the physician is totally confidential, so being open about your health can improve the odds that you receive the right medical advice, diagnosis, and treatments. Asking the right questions and having meaningful dialogue with your doctor can have a significant impact on your care and help avoid issues like a misdiagnosis and even medical errors.

Make the best use of your office visit.

Have you ever sat waiting in the exam room for your doctor and they finally arrive for what feels like a quick visit?  Did you feel rushed during your appointment, not able to ask all your questions (or worse) leave without a good understanding of your treatment plan?

If you’re lucky, you have 15 minutes to voice your concerns, be examined, receive treatment recommendations and ask any questions. Being fully prepared before your appointment can help maximize every second you have together. To do so, bring a list of questions you have for the doctor, so you won’t forget to ask them. Prioritize your list, with the most urgent questions at the top. Try keeping a symptom diary leading up to your appointment so you can easily remember and share exactly what’s going on with your health.  Consider bringing someone with you. Having someone you trust and who cares for your wellbeing can help keep the conversation on track with your doctor, ensure all questions are asked and answered, and they can even take notes on your diagnosis and treatment plan.

It’s a good idea to send your medical records and tests to your doctor ahead of time so your doctor is fully equipped with the best information concerning your medical history during your appointment.   

Be honest about where you are at in the process. 

It is common not to see eye-to-eye with your doctor. There may come a time when you disagree with certain prescription recommendations, specialists they suggest, or expensive lab tests they advise be performed.  What should you do? Feel empowered to express your questions and disagreements in a constructive, respectful way.

Explain your concerns to the doctor and ask about a substitute drug, perhaps a generic version of the one he or she just prescribed. Always ask your doctor what short- and long-term side effects have been observed in their recommended medication, and if the drug may interact with other medications you are taking.

If you’re having doubts or disagreeing with what your doctor is saying, explain that you are not ready to make a firm decision right away.  Let your doctor know that you’re having doubts and that you expect to make the final decision once you have time to talk it over with friends and family.

If you disagree with your doctor’s “orders”, inquire about benefits vs. risks for specific treatments. If you share concerns and doubts, your doctor may list some other options that you are more comfortable trying first.  Share any research or evidence you may have that supports your opinion and concerns. Your doctor may want you to sign a release form stating that you are refusing the recommended treatment even though it was satisfactorily explained to you.

Seek multiple opinions.

No matter how much you trust your doctor, there may be times when you would like a second or even a third opinion.  Your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure that you are unsure you need.  You may receive a diagnosis that requires a specialist in that field of medicine. Seeking another opinion is especially important if you are assigned an aggressive treatment plan such as surgery or long-term medication use that can impact your lifestyle. This would be a good time to take advantage of 2nd.MD, a second opinion service that is part of your Sedera membership. Calling 2nd.MD gives you access to leading specialists across the country who will gather and review your records and issue a written option.  Sedera requires its members to contact 2nd.MD in a non-emergency surgery situation in order for the need to be fully shareable. Ensuring your diagnosis is accurate and the treatment is necessary before you commit makes you a wise health care consumer.

When researching a doctor to provide a second ­opinion, first ask your current doctor to recommend someone they trust. Have your first-opinion records sent ahead to the second doctor.  Even if it turns out that the first opinion was the right one, seeking opinions when dealing with a serious health issue or concern can provide the reassurance that you are being proactive with your health care.  It’s a good idea to inform your primary physician about other treatments you are pursuing, as they are an important part of your health history.

Last, but not least, don’t ever be afraid to voice your concerns or switch doctors if you feel like you are not receiving the care or treatment you deserve. How about you? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the Sedera community?

The Sedera community is centered on a commitment to healthy living and sharing the cost of medical care. In doing so, we provide access to quality health care at affordable prices for our members and their families.