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How can I maximize my time with my doctor?

I recently found a new family doctor after months of looking and I have my first visit next week. Do you have any suggestions for making the most of my time with her?

It can be difficult to know where to begin when you see a new doctor, and you may also be worried that you won't have enough time to address all of your questions. An average visit is 10 to 15 minutes but it often feels shorter.

Here are a few tips on using your limited time effectively:

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1. Plan ahead Most doctors will only be able to cover two or three issues effectively during a single visit, so before your appointment make a list and prioritize your concerns. If you have several concerns, call ahead and book a longer appointment or two separate appointments. Seeing your family doctor regularly, as well as having a yearly check-up for preventative care, will help you keep your list of concerns at each visit to a minimum.

2. Be prepared to describe your concerns Now that you know what you want to discuss, think about each of your concerns in detail. Doctors depend on you sharing as much information as possible to help them formulate a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

Here are some details your doctor will find useful:

  • Time frame How long have you had this symptom? Is it constant or intermittent?
  • Intensity How strong is this pain or symptom? How is it affecting your life?
  • Description What does it feel like? How would you describe the pain? Use descriptive words like sharp, dull, etc.

3. Stay up to date Inform your doctor about any changes to your health status, such as recent visits to specialists or to the emergency room, and bring any test results to your visit.

4. Ask questions and write things down Don't be afraid to say "I don't understand" to your doctor. Asking for clarification keeps you both on the same page. Taking notes during your visits can also help you keep things clear.

5. Know the plan of action The end of a visit can be a confusing time, so when writing down your diagnoses and next steps, be sure to make special note of changes to existing medications or new prescriptions and how to take the medication and its possible side effects. Also note tests to be done and special instructions, such as how long you have to fast for blood tests.

The key to receiving the best care is to be an advocate for your own health. Being prepared for your visit will help you do just that.

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Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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