Be honest. Now is not the time to keep a stiff upper lip. If a hardship like the loss of a job has made it difficult to stick to a diet and exercise plan that controls your blood sugar, let your doctor know. He may be able to temporarily increase the dose of your medication to protect your health until you can get your routine back on track. Similarly, disclosing financial difficulty may prompt your physician to be mindful of the cost of treatments and tests he orders. 

Also, if something about your symptoms is scaring you, don’t be afraid to say so.  For example, if you’ve been feeling unusually tired, and you remember that your father experienced the same kind of fatigue just before he was diagnosed with cancer, let your doctor know so he can thoroughly investigate and hopefully relieve your fear.

Avoid clamming up. It can certainly be intimidating to be poked and prodded, but it’s important to continue to communicate with your doctor during this diagnostic phase so he or she can make a well-informed decision about your care. This is when having a friend or family member in the room can help.

Minutes 16 to 18

Work with the doctor to create a treatment plan. Studies show that when you, the patient, are involved in your treatment, you’ll be more satisfied and have a better health outcome. Your doctor will also be less likely to generate unnecessary tests and referrals.

Review your doctor’s conclusions and the course of action you decided to take after the visit. For example, if your doctor warned that your blood pressure was too high and needed to be lowered, you might say something like “I know my blood pressure is too high, but we agreed that I should try getting more physical activity, managing my stress and cutting more salt out of my diet. If my blood pressure is still too high at our next visit, we agreed that I should consider taking medication.”

This is also the time you should ask your doctor to make a note of any problems you weren’t able to discuss. Making a written record, Mauksch says, makes it more likely that you’ll get your concerns addressed by the next visit. Better yet, tell the doctor you want to repeat the instructions to make sure you understand.

Don't leave before you really understand your doctor’s instructions and the reasoning behind his decisions. Research shows only 15 percent of patients fully understand what their doctors tell them, and that 50 percent leave their doctor’s offices uncertain of what they need to do to take care of themselves. 

If you’ve brought a companion with you, be sure to ask that he or she write down your doctor’s instructions. If you’re on your own, it’s okay to bring a small recording device so that you can review your discussions later, just be sure to ask the doctor if it’s OK to record before you switch it on. If your physician uses an electronic medical record, they should be able to print an after-visit summary that details the important parts of the visit and treatment recommendations.

Taking an active role in your interactions with your doctor doesn’t just make the visit more pleasant. Studies have shown that speaking up will impact your health. Sherrie H. Kaplan, PhD, co-director of the center for health policy research at the University of California at Irvine says she believes that patient passivity, “should be treated as a risk factor for chronic disease.”

That means the more you are able to help your doctor direct your care, the more likely it is that you’ll get where you want to go.