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NHBPM #8: How to Get the Most out of Your 15 Minutes

This post is from a talk I did with Tiffany a while back, but one that was worth revisiting as we haven't blogged about it yet. Typically you only get 15 minutes as a patient, and it can fly by if you are not careful! Here are some helpful hints. 

Ever come home from the doctor's office, realizing s/he was on a completely different page than you? Here's how to talk to your doctor in a way that s/he can best understand you, so that they can help you get back into good health.

Before you go:
  • Don’t be afraid to set up multiple appointments or ask for a longer appointment. In general, you have time in one appointment to talk about one or two concerns. If you know that you have multiple urgent issues that will take more than 10 minutes, ask the secretary to book you for an extended visit.
  • Be specific and explicit about your goal for the visit. Imagine you could only say one sentence during your visit. Make that the first thing out of your mouth. Make a short list of specific concerns you would like to discuss.
  • Know yourself. No doctor will know your body better than you know yourself. Your doctor will be looking for what has changed or is different, and they must rely on you for that information. Take notes on your health in between appointments so you know when issues came up and what you noticed. 
  • Keep a personal health journal. For example, if you have headaches (or stomachaches, or lighteadedness, or any other ailment), keep track of each time you had it, what you were doing when it started, how long it lasted, what you did to make it go away (including medicines). Also, keep a list of all your current medications and allergies, as well as all your physicians in your wallet. 
  • Write down your concerns and give the doctor a chronological account. A good place to start is “this seems to have started (so many days ago) with…”
  • Educate yourself. Find out possible treatments and what questions you may have about them. You can find this online through major medical center's websites. Stay away from message boards and websites that do not use evidence-based practice.
  • Bring a friend or family member with you to the appointment. The more ears to hear the new information the better. If this is not possible, definitely jot notes down as the doctor is talking to you or record the conversation on your smart phone if you have one, to listen to later. 
When you’re there:

Remember that you are the decision-maker. It is your body and you get to choose whatever treatment you want. The doctor is merely a helper in these decisions, offering their expertise, but not pressuring you to make certain decisions. You can always get a second opinion before you make any big decisions.

Ask about other support. Ask, “Should I see any other healthcare professionals, such as a nutritionist, psychologist, or another specialist?” Also, ask if you can email the doctor between appointments if you remember other questions.


  • Don’t ramble.
  • Don’t bring a laundry list of complaints. If you get 10 minutes total to talk with your practitioner, make sure you talk about the top one or two things that ails you most. Start with those things, and let your doctor explore the related symptoms.
  • Don’t self-diagnose. Your job is to tell your practitioner what is wrong. Your practitioner's job is to figure why. For example, if you wonder whether your cough could be pneumonia, ask (or state that you are worried). Do not presume to know the diagnosis.
  • Listen, ask questions, take short notes and educate yourself! Todays health care environment is increasingly complex and most practitioners appreciate a well-educated patient to work with them as a team rather than a passive recipient of care.
(Excerpts were taken from

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