How to Be a Smarter Patient
Our medical advisory board is unanimous on this point: Preparation is the key to maximizing your health care, yet few patients seem to do it. "I tell people to prepare for an appointment as if they were going to a job interview," says Jennifer H. Mieres, MD, a cardiologist at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Lake Success, New York.Create a Medical Profile
When you're filling out the doctor's paperwork in the waiting room, having your own health summary at your fingertips will make it faster, easier, and more accurate, suggests Carol E. Ash, DO, a pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine specialist at Meridian Health, New Jersey. Keep it up-to-date so you can grab it quickly for appointments and emergencies. You should include contact information for all your doctors and your pharmacy, insurance details, the dates of previous ailments or surgeries, chronic conditions, a list of allergies, medications, herbs or supplements you take (including frequency and dosage), age at your first period, any pregnancy-related problems you've had, and a detailed family health history. Download and fill out our exclusive personal medical profile form at LHJ.com/medicalprofile.Keep a Health Log
This can be an informal diary you write in a notebook or online. It should include notes about symptoms and triggers, the results of any medications or treatments you try, and other health issues. Jot things down as they happen and include dates. Also keep track of numbers such as your blood pressure and cholesterol results, says Dr. Mieres. You may notice trends over the years that could otherwise be missed, especially if you switch doctors.
Elizabeth Pflaum, 45, a parenting coach in Scarsdale, New York, was being treated for ulcerative colitis, but discussing diary details with her doctor helped the two of them figure out that she didn't have that at all. "In fact, my symptoms were caused by lactose intolerance and an infection caused by another condition. So I was able to stop taking steroids and getting colonoscopies every six months," she says.Do Selective Research
It can be helpful to read up on a condition at a reliable health site, such as NIH.gov or MayoClinic.com. But think twice about diagnosing yourself online no matter how tidily your symptoms seem to fit. "If you come in thinking you have X when you really have Y, you may not be listening to your doctor," says Tina Alster, MD, founding director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C. "We spend a lot of time reeducating patients because there's so much misinformation out there."
Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, associate professor of pharmacology at Georgetown University Medical Center, warns that you should watch out for fake consumer sites if you're researching a particular condition. "It's not always easy to tell if a drug company is behind a site or how it's funded, but it's smart to check," she says.Prioritize Your Questions
Think about what you most need to learn from your visit, and write your questions down, especially if you're shy about discussing certain topics or symptoms. Plan to focus on your top three concerns early in the appointment so you get to the important stuff before your time is up. If you have a lot of questions to remember, Dr. Kriegel suggests listing them on your smartphone and working them into the conversation since doctors sometimes get unnerved when they see a lengthy list. And you thought only patients got anxious!