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Here's how to get the most out of your doctor's appointment


When patients talk to doctors, there can be a certain dynamic to the conversation, one that assumes that doctors automatically have all the answers. But the reality is that's not always the case.

JENNIFER MIERES: I always say I didn't have ESP.

DETROW: That's Dr. Jennifer Mieres. She's a professor of cardiology at Hofstra Northwell Health, and she says it's important to go to your doctor with the right questions and information. NPR's Life Kit spoke to her for an episode on how to talk to your doctor or any other medical provider. Here's Life Kit host Marielle Segarra with some tips.

MARIELLE SEGARRA, BYLINE: Let's say you have a doctor's appointment coming up. Dr. Mieres says you want to start by taking some notes.

MIERES: I always say, you know, I would joke and say, prepare as if you're going to your accountant, getting ready for taxes. You certainly don't show up without receipts or whatever.

SEGARRA: Be ready to talk about your family history, what medications you're taking and what life has been like since your last visit. Has anything major in your life changed? Also, if you keep track of your vital signs like blood pressure, have those numbers available. And if you're having a symptom - let's say knee pain - be ready to explain.

MIERES: When did it start? What was I doing when it started? How long has it persisted? What makes it worse? Does it ever get better?

SEGARRA: And maybe you don't remember exactly when it started, for instance. But, you know, oh, it flared up at that party. And that was in mid-April.

MIERES: It's detective work, right? You and your doctor are detectives. So anything you can describe - duration, time it started - you know, for joint pain, was I wearing heels? - all of that stuff. The more information, the better.

SEGARRA: Based on your symptoms and family history, your doctor will come up with a differential diagnosis. That's a medical term for a list of possible causes. And then they might say, OK, we need to do more testing, or, here's how we're going to treat this. Sometimes, you'll go to a doctor and tell them about symptoms, and they will say something dismissive or just ignore your concerns.

MIERES: That is a warning sign. And I think if that happens, you need to hit the pause button and take control again and say, let's talk about my symptoms. Did you not hear me? This is really what is bothering me. This is limiting my life. I get up in the morning. This pain or whatever is bothering me. I cannot go to work. It's nagging. I am dysfunctional without it. I need your help.

SEGARRA: And if you're still not being heard - and we know that's a common experience, especially for women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ folks, people over a certain weight...

MIERES: You know, finding another doctor is definitely important.

SEGARRA: Dr. Mieres points out that it is easier when you have insurance or you live in an area where you have lots of options. Now, if you do get a diagnosis, that can be a frightening moment, and you might freeze up. It's OK to take your time. Take it all in.

MIERES: And I would say, reserve the right to say, OK, I'm going to come back with my partner, my friend. Having someone with you to sort of discuss a treatment plan is important.

SEGARRA: Some questions you might ask - what is actually happening in my body right now? What's the treatment? How does it work? How effective is it? Will this condition ever go away? How will it affect my day-to-day life? You can also ask for recommendations for a consult, another doctor to review your case. That is not rude.

MIERES: It's your right, and it's your health.

SEGARRA: Dr. Mieres says what you want to create here is a healthy partnership, one where it's OK to share your doubts and questions and take an active role in your health. For NPR News, I'm Marielle Segarra.


DETROW: Life Kit has a video full of more tips on this topic, and you can find that at youtube.com/nprpodcasts.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAN HAMMER GROUP'S "DON'T YOU KNOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Marielle Segarra
Marielle Segarra is a reporter and the host of NPR's Life Kit, the award-winning podcast and radio show that shares trustworthy, nonjudgmental tips that help listeners navigate their lives.