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The One Question Women Should (But Don't) Ask Their Doctors

04/01/2015 08:35 am ET | Updated Apr 01, 2015
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Maybe you keep forgetting, or maybe it never even occurred to you, but don't let another short and scattered doctor's appointment pass without asking this key question. (Plus, a few related ones you might want to squeeze in.)

By Carlin Flora

I know a lot about how to get healthier. Why aren't I doing it?

Sure, your doctor will give advice and remedies for your current ailments, and general tips for getting healthier. But the chances you'll take them to heart turn out to be slim: A full 28 percent of first-time e-prescriptions are never filled, found one large-scale study, only 50 percent of women ages 40 to 85 get a mammogram in any given year and 73.7 percent of American adults ate vegetables less than three times per day in 2009. Apparently, we are a nation of non-compliers.

Ask this provocative question, though, and your doctor will be forced to stop for a moment and share what he knows about the art and science of behavioral change, especially as it relates to someone with your history. Together, you can come up with a plan specific to you.

Am I taking this medication the right way?

This question -- one of two runners-up -- comes from Jennifer Ashton, MD, ob-gyn and ABC News senior medical contributor, who points out that many women take medications incorrectly "either by accident, or because no one explained to them the right way to take them." In fact, a 2011 meta-study found that 50 percent of patients don't take their medicines as prescribed.

Cases in point: Antibiotics for urinary tract infections need to be taken at the correct hourly intervals, and for the entire course; and vaginal estrogen cream for painful intercourse should be taken regularly, not just when a patient feels vaginal dryness, Ashton says. Relief is in the details.

Could you write that down?

A lot of what a doctor says in the exam room is forgotten by patients, says Jay Parkinson, MD, a preventive medicine specialist and co-founder of Sherpaa, a healthcare company. Why? It's a stressful situation, doctors can use too much jargon and many of us are not focused listeners, especially when we're hearing a diagnosis for the first time. A 2003 review study backs this up with some astonishing stats: 40 to 80 percent of information provided by healthcare practitioners is immediately forgotten by patients, and almost half of the information people do remember is incorrect.

Encourage your doctor to loosely transcribe or take notes on what she tells you, since we are much more likely to remember information that is written down, according to several studies, including a recent one concluding that patients recalled their post-operation instructions much better when they were printed out on a sheet of paper.

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