20 Minutes that Could Save Your Life

Health Monitor asked Donnica Moore, MD, to give us the lowdown on maximizing the crucial 20 minutes that you spend with your doctor during your annual physical.

When it comes to preparing for your annual doctor’s visit, Dr. Donnica, founder of DrDonnica.com, a website specializing in women’s health, doesn't mince words. “Most people go to the doctor’s office less prepared than when they go to the grocery store. The better organized and informed you are,” she says, “the more you’ll get out of your doctor. It’s that simple.”

Read on to find out how to prepare for this very important encounter.

Start at the beginning.
When you call for your annual appointment, let the receptionist know if you are coming in for more than a routine checkup. For example, you might say: “I need a checkup, but I also want Dr. Smith to look at a mole on my back. Can we schedule a few extra minutes?” Doing this alerts the receptionist to make sure you’ll have enough time with the doctor.

Don’t reinvent the wheel.
If you’re making your first visit to a new doctor, she is going to want to know your medical history.

Avoid the “doorknob” question.
Be sure to ask all the questions on your list during the appointment, not at the very end. Doctors may not have enough time to help you if you wait until the doctor’s hand is on the doorknob, and he or she is about to leave the room, to ask the most important question. It may sound like this: “By the way, doctor, I notice I have blood in my stool. Is that something I should be concerned about?”

 Don’t be an ostrich.
The ostrich is famous for hiding his head in the sand and not facing the dangers ahead of him. Fear of what symptoms might mean can prevent you from revealing them to your physician. At the same time, don’t let embarrassment keep you from having a discussion that could save your life. If you have blood in your urine or your stool, or other “embarrassing” symptoms, do not keep them to yourself.

Be ready to hear your doctor’s answers to these questions—and prepared to take action on the recommendations you receive. Of course, you may hear something you don’t want to hear (“Your blood pressure is high,” or, “You need to lose 20 pounds”). If you do, take the time to ask your doctor exactly how you can accomplish that goal. Occasionally, you may hear something downright frightening (“I’m going to send you for a biopsy”). If that happens, consider taking a friend or relative along to your next appointment to take notes and to ask questions for you.

—Andrea Atkins


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