Your doctor often only has 5 to 15 minutes to see you, and every minute counts. When your doctor asks at the end, “Do you have any questions for me?” you may feel like you shouldn’t take up any additional time. However, the face time you get with your doctor is being paid for, so definitely ask any questions you may have to be clear on what’s going on and next steps.
Here are five questions you need to ask your doctor at your next appointment.
1. “How long will I be sick?” If your condition is uncommon, ask your doctor how many cases like yours they have seen and how those patients have done. This will increase your understanding of your illness and timeline for recovery, and may even give you a few ideas on the best ways to recover.
2. “What are the most common side effects of my medications, and how do I treat them? Are there any uncommon side effects I should know about?” Typical side effects include nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea and headache, while less common ones could be a rash, blurry vision and dizziness. Getting a pulse on medications that your doctor prescribes before visiting your pharmacy removes some of the anxiety and worry associated with taking them.
3. “I’m taking a lot of meds to treat my heart failure. Do I need to be on all of these meds, and if yes, what side effects do I need to watch for?” This is polypharmacy, the use of five or more medications to treat one condition, and it’s an underappreciated and underestimated problem for many health conditions, like heart failure. If you’re elderly, taking this many meds should raise red flags because your risk of falls and injury is significantly higher. Unfortunately, this problem is often addressed after the fact when a patient is hospitalized due to worsening of their illness. Ask your doctor if improved exercise/diet, telehealth for more frequent health check-ups or potentially discontinuing one of more of your medications could lessen the problem of polypharmacy.
4. “What if I have medication side effects and they don’t go away? Or if my current symptoms get much worse?” The reflex answer is “call 911” if things turn for the worse, but not all situations warrant an ER visit. Ask your doctor when you need to go to the ER vs. returning to the doctor’s office for a check-up.
5. “When should I see you again?” Many patients today don’t return for follow-up visits, which is a huge risk factor to the progression of disease. Know when you need to schedule your next doctor’s appointment, with whom, and set a reminder on your e-mail/phone calendar so you don’t miss it. Also, let a friend or family member know you have a follow-up appointment so they can give you a gentle reminder in case life gets busy.
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