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Get the Most Out of Your Doctor's Appointment

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On Thursdays, I never miss the Skin Deep column in the New York Times. Several weeks ago, the author, Camille Sweeney, discussed how cosmetic surgeons try to weed out patients who have unreasonable expectations or those that are likely to be "problem patients" because they will never be satisfied with their treatments. The column got me thinking about my patient encounters and it made me consider the other side of the coin: how to become an "ideal patient" and get the most out of your doctor's appointment. Here are some tips:

1. Think about an agenda before the appointment and write it down if necessary. I find this works best if patients can limit this agenda to a list of 3 main goals, which will give us time to fully discuss each issue, examine the problem and come up with a solution. The agenda also gives us something to refer to at the end and make sure that the patient is satisfied with the visit. If the patient has more than 3 issues, it may be best to address additional issues in follow-up visits.

2. Know your health history. Until Google develops internet software that will allow each person to access their health history online , we have to keep old fashioned medical records. It's a good idea to bring a list of all the medications that you are taking to your appointment, or even to bring the actual bottles and tubes with you. I can't tell you how many times patients tell me things like "I've been using a cream that comes in a white tube with purple lettering." That could be anything from retin-a to an antibiotic and doesn't help me devise your treatment plan. It's also a good idea to keep copies of your test and biopsy results and bring them with you in case you or some physician that you see needs to refer to them. Know what diseases run in your family so your doctor can be attuned to any hereditary conditions that may affect you.

3. Be a patient patient. I value my patients' time but even the most conscientious physician can run late due to long procedures or unexpected emergencies. Patients can help medical offices run smoothly by arriving early to fill out paperwork and insurance forms, especially if it is the first time you are seeing this doctor. A lot of practices including mine offer these forms online so that people can fill them out at their leisure. Please allow plenty of time for you visit: don't put only 30 minutes on your parking meter and have to run out half way through the visit to add more quarters and you'll feel less stressed if you don't book another appointment across town 20 minutes after your scheduled appointment with your doctor. Realize that even if the doctor is running late, you will receive their complete unhurried attention and your patience will be much appreciated. You greatly increase your chances of being seen on time if you book the first appointment of the day or the first appointment after lunch.

4. Know what your insurance covers. Most physicians participate in numerous insurance plans and couldn't even begin to tackle the intricate details of your plan. We employ multiple people who do this for us and they are more than willing to help you figure out your coverage. Please realize that many things such as laser hair removal, removing that freckle that you don't like, and botoxing wrinkles, are not considered medically necessary and are never covered by insurance plans.

5. Treat the nurses and secretaries as an extension of the doctor. Every member of the office is a valuable member of the health care team committed to providing you with the best care. I couldn't function without my great staff and I feel insulted if people are rude to them.

I truly believe that quality health care is based on a partnership between the patient and the doctor that relies on common courtesy.

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