Whether it’s an annual check-up, your child’s sports physical or an appointment to discuss a pressing health concern, you need to make the most of your doctor’s appointments. A little preparation and a few simple strategies will help you achieve that.

First, gather important information in advance and have it ready. Everyone should spend some time compiling a personal health record (PHR) that includes family, medical and immunization history, allergies, current medications, test and lab results, and a list of hospitalizations, surgeries and procedures, advises Julie Howe, a Saint Louis University instructor of health informatics and information management.

Not only does the PHR help the patient keep track of all health issues, but it can be an important document for spouses or caregivers should they need to provide information on a patient’s behalf. “If the individual is seeing clinicians within the same health system (e.g., BJC, SSM Healthcare, Mercy, etc.), the clinicians can access all patient information through their electronic health record system,” Howe says. “But if patients are seeing clinicians among various systems, the PHR will allow the patient to accurately convey information to each treating provider.”

Physicians who use electronic medical records (currently less than half of all physicians nationwide) can provide a hard copy of the notes from a visit or procedure, which can be added to the PHR. The American Academy of Family Physicians offers detailed suggestions and a basic PHR template by searching for ‘health journal’ at familydoctor.org.

“Because it's easy to get distracted during a doctor’s visit, write down information about why you are going to the doctor to keep you on task. Include symptoms, questions, medication refills needed, etc. Remember, the physician will not have time to answer questions about all your health issues if you called for an appointment for flu symptoms,” Howe says. If you are unable to get all your questions answered in one visit, ask when you can follow up and be prepared to make another appointment.

If they are not already part of a PHR, compile and bring medical records from your visits with other physicians, including records of lab work, immunizations, X-rays, etc., suggests Dr. Divya Chauhan, a family physician at Creve Coeur Family Medicine and on staff at St. Luke’s Hospital. Also create a complete medication list, including strength and dosage of all prescriptions along with any herbal or over-the-counter medications you take, and indicate whether you have any medication or seasonal allergies.

“For pediatric visits, have the child describe the symptoms, if possible,” Howe adds. “Make sure that immunization and school forms, etc., that need to be completed are brought along and completed in their entirety.”

When you are receiving information from your doctor, it’s perfectly acceptable to jot down notes during the visit, Howe says. Recording the visit with a smartphone or other recording device allows patients to listen again later, when they are more relaxed and less apt to forget details. Bringing a friend or family member can serve as a second set of ears and note-taker.

Communicating clearly also is important when updating other physicians about your care. Don’t assume your primary-care physician and specialists automatically share information. “Tell your primary-care physician about all of the specialists you are following up with. Educating patients about the importance of keeping their primary-care physician in the loop regarding recommendations from specialists about a disease or any changes made to their medications is vital,” Chauhan says.

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