06/12/2013 08:41 am ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

Effective Care: 5 Valuable Questions to Ask Your Doctor

As 21st century living continues to breed more active lifestyles, we try our best to maximize the length of our days so we can fit in the activities that matter the most to us. Between jobs, spending time with family and doing all the little things that we love, sometimes taking care of ourselves falls short on our priority list. We are arguably abandoning one of the most important aspects of our life -- ourselves! It's time to consider refocusing on your health and a visit to your doctor may just be the key to taking better care of ourselves and unlocking some of the secrets to longevity.

However, I understand that a visit to the doctor isn't always something we look forward to, especially since we're strapped for time as it is. Not to mention, the cost of care is becoming more expensive and face-time with your doctor is limited. American patients on average see 18.7 different doctors during their lives.[1] Those over the age of 65 see the average rise to 28.4.[2] In each of those visits American patients will spend only about 8 -15 minutes with their doctor. [3] With staggering statistics like this, I know each interaction I have with a patient or caregiver that walks through my door must be an effective one. In order to ensure that you, the patient and/or caregiver, are maximizing time in the exam room, please consider having the following questions on hand to help encourage a more valuable conversation with your physician.

1. How can I reach you?
The question seems trivial, but can you think of a time when you needed your doctor and ended up speaking to an automated recording? Some patients spend hours conversing with an operator to track down their physician, and a wild goose chase can be easily avoided if you talk to your doctor face-to-face about the best ways to get in contact.

Something else to consider is whether or not a physician works part time. Your doctor can help facilitate relationships with other doctors, so you can always have someone available to you when you're in need. In our connected age, it's easier than ever to utilize technology resources and establish effective and timely communication methods, which can ultimately lead to a stronger relationship with your doctor.

2. May I have a copy of my records?
I can't stress enough to patients the importance of being the owner and keeper of a copy of their health records. The benefit of living in a digital age is that there are highly-secure information exchanges and cloud-storage solutions -- making it easier to capture important paperwork. In the event of an emergency, people do not want to spend their time filling out paperwork that outlines medical history; they want to be by their loved one's bedside. While the healthcare industry continues to implement technology solutions that communicate more efficiently between healthcare systems, if you, as a patient, are able to take the guess work out of anything from lab results and x-ray copies to family history, you are contributing to a greater and more effective care experience.

3. What is the best way to keep track of my medications?
As patients age, medication becomes a more critical factor in achieving overall health and recovery goals. It can be downright confusing when you're prescribed multiple medications that include intake instructions for both morning and night -- ensuring you are taking the right dosage at the right time can be tricky. Multiple medication subscriptions can get especially complicated when you also need to figure out how to incorporate your new routine into your regular daily vitamin or aspirin regimen. Since healthy living practices can't always be found at a local drug store, it's important to discuss with your doctor the best ways to integrate the two.

Personally tracking and logging your medicine intake and any symptoms you experience can also help you and your doctor. Giving your doctor a real-time perspective of how you respond to a medication is valuable and will help facilitate better conversations about what works for you and what doesn't -- even down to medication-induced mood-swings, nausea or to other symptoms you feel daily. With applications and pill reminder technologies making it easier than ever to track, you will have all the data you need right at your fingertips during your next doctor visit.

4. What can I do to prevent illness?
Throughout the human lifespan, we regularly experience medical milestones. From annual check-ups to middle-aged colonoscopy, staying on top of these check-ins and check-ups are among best practices for preventative care. Survival rates are improving from the most devastating of diseases and we can attribute much of the slowing statistics to preventative care. [4] Talk to your doctor about the milestones that are coming up and what you can do to stay on track. It may be as something as simple as setting calendar check-up reminders that can lead to a healthier lifestyle.

5. As a caregiver what can I do to help family and loved ones?
One of the hardest roles to take on is that of a caregiver. It requires a significant amount of personal strength because you must be the primary advocate of the patient when they are unable to advocate for themselves. Time spent with your doctor can also be used to raise questions you have about others and what you can do to care for them. As we round out the school year, children will be heading off to summer camps, where medical records will be needed and on-hand. There are plenty of best practices out there that doctors can share with you about how to stay organized and manage health updates, immunizations and specific chronic illness, such as asthma or diabetes.

A patient's healthcare journey is a two-way street. As Doctors, we want to administer the most effective care possible, and understand that the time you have with your doctor is essential to you leading a healthy life. Though it may seem like a superfluous appointment in your day, think of the time spent with your doctor as a roadmap to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and increasing longevity. If a once-per-year visit with your doctor can unlock valuable information that will help you make positive changes, what are you waiting for? Make that appointment and go ahead and start talking.

[1] "Preventive Health Care Helps Everyone," World Research Foundation
[2] "Survey: Patients See 18.7 Different Doctors on Average," by Practice Fusion, 2010
[3] "Survey: Patients See 18.7 Different Doctors on Average," by Practice Fusion, 2010
[4] Bodenheimer, Tom. The building blocks of high-performing primary care, UCSF.

For more by Geeta Nayyar, M.D., click here.

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