Doctor's appointments are all the same. You wait for about 20 minutes (28 according to the latest study) to get into the exam room, only the have your doctor walk out the door as quickly as he came in. In fact, research shows the average time a doctor has to spend with each patient has dwindled to a speedy seven minutes.
The whirlwind experience usually has you riding home thinking of all the questions you were supposed to ask but didn't have enough time to get in. Fortunately, Dr. Gopal Chopra, a neurosurgeon who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, shared with CNN.com his 5 easy tips to help you get the most out of your doctor's visit.
According to Chopra, "Technology can simplify your health care experience and help your doc help you — so get your smartphone on for better health!"
1. Do your homework
WebMD here you come! There are plenty of trustworthy sites available that can help you uncover at least a rough idea of what your problem is. "Don't be afraid to admit the scary things you've read while conducting your self-diagnosis – your doctor can help rule out all worst-case scenarios and alleviate your worry," says Chopra. Yes, it's possible to overdo it with Dr. Google but doing some research on your own can only make you a more informed patient.
2. Know your history
If carrying around a manila folder is too passé in this digital age, you can store a record of your medical history right in your smartphone. Nowadays there are apps that will allow you to securely store health data where you can document past medical conditions and any medication you've taken. "Make sure you get copies of any medical images and past lab data, bringing in these resources helps your doctors add context to your conditions," says Chopra.
3. Keep tabs on yourself
Accuracy is key when describing your symptoms to your doctor. But it can be easy to forget dates and specifics when your cold started four days before you could get an appointment. Chopra recommends downloading an electronic diary app that can store secure pictures and videos. Got a fever: When did your temp spike? Rash: What did it look like at its worst? "This information is invaluable to your doctor, who gets to see you and evaluate your symptoms only in that five-to-seven minute window," says Chopra.
4. Stay focused
Before you hit the exam room, take the time to write down the list of questions you've been meaning to ask your doc and when you whip it out during the exam, don't digress. "Doctors are like detectives – when you bring up a symptom, they are keenly listening for clues that might give them some idea about your diagnosis, and they have a series of questions they need to ask you," says Chopra. Answer your doctor's questions as honestly and attentively as you can to make his job easier, and in turn, you'll get better answers.
To make sure you eave with all the information you were looking for, there's one thing you should always ask your doctor to give you before you leave the exam room: "Ask for a printed or electronic copy of your doctor's instructions, and if you're not 100% clear on them, ask your doctor to sit and explain with you a second time," says Chopra. And if you plan to get a second opinion on the treatment your doctor suggests, don't be afraid to say that – your doctor may have a few names he can even refer you to!