Tips to make the most of your doctor's appointment

Doctor using stethoscope on smiling patient




Most doctors spend around 10-minutes with each patient, and it's easy to feel hurried and forget something important you wanted to say, especially if you have a number of symptoms. To help you get the most out of your GP appointment, we've put together a dos and don'ts guide.

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Do: Prepare before you go
Make a list of your symptoms, any medication and non-prescription supplements you are currently taking, and questions you want to ask. Remember to take a pen and paper with you to the surgery, so you can note down what's said. You can also prepare by wearing clothing that's easy to remove, should the doctor need to examine you.

Don't: Get there late
With GPs often running behind, it can be tempting to arrive late – knowing you will have to wait to be seen anyway. Don't be the patient that holds everyone up. Arrive on time or early. If you are having your blood pressure checked, arriving early will allow you time to relax and so give a more accurate reading. Likewise, don't drink caffeine before your appointment, as this can elevate your blood pressure. Plus, if you're calm and relaxed when you're called in, you're less likely to forget what you wanted to say.

Don't: Go to the toilet
If there's a chance your GP will ask for a urine sample, try not to go before your appointment. If you can't wait, ask the reception staff for a specimen bottle and use it in the toilet.

Do: Take someone for support
If you are concerned that you will forget to tell the doctor something, or worried you won't remember everything your GP says, take someone with you for support. Just don't let them take over entirely. You are the only one who can describe how you are feeling – so you should be the one to relay your symptoms to the doctor.

Do: Go with a list of symptoms, not a diagnosis
These days, many patients Google their symptoms and come up with a diagnosis before seeing the doctor. While this can be helpful in some cases, it's also easy to get carried away and worry yourself. Instead, make a note of your symptoms and describe how the pain/discomfort feels.

It's fine to say you are worried you have cancer/multiple sclerosis, etc, but it's more helpful to give the doctor a complete picture of your symptoms first.

If you have a pain or symptom that comes and goes, keep a diary for a week or more, noting down when it occurs and any triggers – for example, do you always feel bloated after eating, or does it only happen after you've eaten bread?

Don't: Leave the most important point until last
Many doctors complain that patients will talk about a minor rash, and then say "Oh, by the way, I've noticed this lump," on their way out of the door. Focus on the most important issue first. If you have time, you can mention anything else that's troubling you.

If there's more than one major thing concerning you, make a separate appointment for each. You don't want the doctor to rush and miss something or be distracted by another issue.

Do: Say what you want
Seeing the doctor should be a dialogue, so if there's something you think should happen, say so. Perhaps you want a second opinion, or to be referred to a specialist. Maybe you want to switch to a different type of drug. While the doctor may not agree with you on every point, remember that it's your health that's at stake. Don't keep quiet because "the doctor knows best" or you don't want to make a fuss. Speak up.

Do: Ask if you don't understand
If your GP says something that you don't understand, ask them to explain or write it down. If they prescribe a particular drug, make sure you know why it's being given to you – and how long/when you should take it and what the most common side effects are. If you forget, you can always ask the pharmacist – but the doctor should explain in the first instance.

Don't be shy
No matter how embarrassing you think your problem is, your doctor will have heard and seen it all before. Try to be matter-of-fact, rather than alluding to a "problem down below." Too many people 'die from embarrassment' because they don't want to mention a lump in their testicles or blood in their stool. Don't be one of them. If you feel uncomfortable being examined on your own, ask the practice to provide a chaperone.

Likewise, always tell the truth. If you haven't been taking your medication, your GP needs to know that in order to accurately assess what's wrong and the best treatment going forward.

Do: Follow up on test results
Sometimes, things get missed. When you have a test at the doctors, always ask when you should expect to get the results. Just because you hear nothing, it doesn't necessarily mean that everything is okay. Always phone up the surgery – on the date you've been given – and ask for the results.

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