It used to be when you went to the doctor, the rule of thumb was “the doctor knows best.”  You, the patient relied on the doctor to make all the decisions.  Today, most doctors want you, the patient, to take an active role in your care.  The more information you share about yourself, the more the doctor can help you.

Too often, we are hesitant to talk about what is really bothering us—whether it is a new symptom, a subject that is embarrassing to talk about, or something in your life that is emotionally upsetting.  Here are a few tips to make the most of the 15 minutes you have with your primary care physician.


  • If the visit is for a new illness,  keep a “symptom diary” that includes information about new symptoms that are of concern—when did the symptom start, frequency, what makes the symptom better/worse, how does it affect your daily life (difficulty walking, can’t concentrate, decreased appetite etc.) and lastly, was there a recent event that might have triggered the problem (travel out of the country, visit to a sick friend or relative or change in a medication).
  • Make a list of questions and concerns you have for the doctor.  List the questions in order of importance and keep the list to 2 or 3 of most important concerns. 
  • Make a list of all your medications including all over the counter medications and supplements.  If there is a new medication, let your doctor know and note whether there are any side effects.
  • If you have memory problems, ask a friend or family member to accompany you and take notes.

            DAY OF THE VISIT

“How to Help Your Doctor Help You”

  • Address your main reason for the visit at the beginning of the visit. “I am here today because. . . “
  • Take your complete medication list to show your doctor.  Bring any new medications to his attention.  If you have several specialists who prescribe medications to you, your primary care physician may not be aware of new medications. 
  • Be clear and concise when describing your symptoms—Be honest with the doctor—they can’t read your mind!  Never be embarrassed to talk about personal topics.  Most likely your doctor has encountered your “embarrassing problem” many times.
  • Keep an open mind—If you diagnose yourself and determine the right treatment before you have talked with the doctor you won’t be giving the doctor the opportunity to make an informed medical diagnosis based on your symptoms.  This approach too often leads to the wrong treatment, resulting in a return to the doctor when you are not better.
  • Be proactive—All questions are good questions.  Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification of a term or treatment instructions.


  • What might have caused this condition?
  • Will I get better or will this condition linger?
  • What is the plan to treat the illness or condition?
  • How will this condition affect me or any other medical problems I may have?


  • Why are you ordering the test(s)?
  • What preparations are necessary, if any, for the test?
  • What does the test involve?
  • Are there any risks or side effects?


  • What is the treatment?  What does it involve?
  • Are there alternative choices (watchful waiting)
  • What are the benefits/side effects/risks?
  • Are the tests, treatments and/or medications covered by my insurance?


  • Follow through with the doctor’s orders—medication, treatment plan or tests. Make sure you take all of the medicine ordered and according to the directions on the bottle.
  • Contact the doctor’s office for any problems that arise—intolerable side effect of the medicine, difficulty scheduling any ordered tests.
  • Schedule a follow-up appointment according to the situation and don’t miss the appointment, even if you are feeling better.

How well you and your doctor talk to each other is one of the most important parts of getting good health care. This is true at any age, but it is especially important when you are older. This is because you may have more health conditions and concerns to discuss. More importantly, your health has a big impact on all parts of your life and needs to be talked about too. For a guide on all aspects of your relationship with your doctor and how to receive the health care you deserve, go to