March 3, 2009 -- Most patients have a limited amount of time to express themselves during a doctor's visit. Indeed, patients can generally expect 15 to 20 minutes of face time with their doctors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Good Morning America" medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard offers five tips on how patients can make sure they get the most out of their doctors' time.
You Are the Expert on You
So many people are afraid to listen to their guts — both figuratively and literally. You've got to trust your own health radar.
If you feel that something is not right and that a lab test or doctor's diagnosis doesn't make sense, believe it. Your health radar works better for you and for your family than any doctor's could possibly work.
Doctors care for thousands of patients and you care only about you. Don't be afraid to speak up; it is your life that is on the line.
Remember, a doctor is not like a pilot flying a plane. If a pilot makes a mistake, everyone, including the pilot, goes down. If a doctor makes a mistake, only you or your loved ones suffer, so don't be afraid to speak up and to participate in your own care.
Don't just go in with a litany of aches and pains. Make a list of what is bothering you before you go.
First of all, it helps you remember everything so you're not running after your doctor at the end of the visit saying, "Wait, I forgot to mention my chest pains." So make the list, then show it to your doctor and, together, set the agenda of what the most important issues are.
You may think your stomach trouble is the most important thing, but he or she may see that you also have chest pains and say, "That's what we need to deal with first."
Don't Go Alone
No matter who we are or what is wrong, we all need an advocate to be with us. I want to stress the importance of a health buddy.
Be it your spouse, a family member, a best friend, you just need another set of eyes and ears to help you plan for and go with you to the doctor visit.
Health Buddy Helps You Remember
Studies show that up to 50 percent of patients forget what the doctor has told them the minute they walk out of the office.
Your health buddy can remind you to speak up and ask questions, can take notes and help you follow through on your doctor's advice. Your health buddy will also help you avoid the number one human sickness — denial
Know Your Goal for Every Condition
All too often, patients passively accept medication not knowing the purpose or the goal the doctor is trying to achieve for their condition.
For example, if on a statin, know that the goal may be an LDL of under 100; if on a blood pressure medication, know that your goal is a blood pressure under 130/80.
Write down the target goal and measure your progress. All too often, people are under or over or mistreated with medications.
Follow Up on Test Results
Don't assume, like most people, that "no news is good news" when it comes to getting test results. Test results can easily be misfiled, misplaced and even misread.
You need to keep a copy of every blood test result, X-ray report, pap test or EKG. Give your doctor a self-addressed stamped envelope and ask for a copy.
Share this information with any doctor who may need to take a look and maybe even look through the results yourself.
You will be surprised how much you can learn. Remember, you are legally entitled to all the information in your medical file.
Carry Basic Medical Info With You at All Times
No one likes to think about a situation in which they might be too sick to communicate with medical professionals, but you do need to plan for an emergency so that you get the proper care. So, what kind of health information do you need to have on you at all times?
When faced with an emergency (think Hurricane Katrina, flight 1549, a car accident or acute illness while on the road), your insurance card may pay the bill, but your medical information could save your life.
Your medical history is the key to the best diagnosis and care. I carry mine with me on this little form that I keep in my wallet.
You need to write allergies, blood type, every pill you take and the dosage, immunizations and your emergency contact. Click here for a copy of a form you can use to track your medical information.