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Ask the MD: How to Get the Most out of Your Doctor's Appointment

Ask the MD: How to Get the Most out of Your Doctor's Appointment

As a doctor who's also been a patient, I've been on both sides of the examining table. Going to the doctor can be stressful. You may only see your physician for 15 to 30 minutes a few times a year. And during those times, it may feel like you and your doctor speak a different language or you may have trouble relaying your experiences with Parkinson's.

Taking an active role in your care -- reading about Parkinson's, preparing for visits and speaking up and asking questions -- may help you get more out of each visit. Whether it's a routine check-up or an appointment for a second opinion, see if these tips help you maximize your time in the doctor's office.

  • Write down your concerns and questions.
    Before your visit, think through what you want to talk to your doctor about. Is tremor bothering you? What about memory or thinking? Tell your doctor the main concerns at the beginning of the visit so you have time to address them. List your questions ahead of time, too. Maybe you're wondering about a new symptom and if it's from Parkinson's or a medication. Ask questions, as appropriate, throughout the visit; don't wait until you're wrapping up to try to fit them in.
  • Be honest.
    Saying everything is "fine," especially when it's not, won't help you or your doctor. Describe how you've been doing since the last time you saw your doctor: are you better, worse or about the same? Talk specifically about the symptoms that are bothering you most and why, and bring up the non-motor ones such as sexual problems and constipation, too.
  • Go with a family member or friend.
    Doctors' visits can go by in a blur. Two sets of eyes and ears can pick up much more than one. A friend might think of additional questions or take notes. And spouses or family members may have noticed subtle shifts in mood, behavior or walking that the doctor should know about.
  • Bring your medications.
    It's easy to forget which medication you take when and for what. Having your prescription and over-the-counter medications for Parkinson's and other conditions (or a detailed list of them) allows your doctor to make sure you're on the right regimen or make adjustments. It also helps avoid potential drug interactions. Be sure to tell your doctor which medications you're actually taking and don't just report what's prescribed.
  • Record your symptoms.
    If you changed medication since your last visit or you're concerned medication isn't working as well it could be, keep a log of your symptoms and medications for a few days or weeks. Note when you take your medication and when your symptoms (tremor, slowness and stiffness, for example) go away and come back. This can help you and your doctor adjust your medications. You also may want to consider videotaping certain symptoms with your smartphone. It can sometimes be difficult for people with Parkinson's to distinguish a tremor from dyskinesia (involuntary, uncontrolled movement that can arise with long-term levodopa use) and the treatments are different. If you're unsure what might be tremor or dyskinesia, reviewing a video with your doctor can ensure your medications are adjusted correctly.
  • Bring recent lab tests and imaging studies.
    Perhaps your family doctor ran blood tests at your annual visit or the emergency room doctor did a CT scan of your head after a recent fall. Maybe you had a DaTscan (specialized brain imaging study) and now you're going in for a second opinion about a Parkinson's diagnosis. Bringing these results can avoid retesting and save time. When it comes to imaging studies, the actual images (on a CD, for example) are typically preferred over paper reports. Check with your doctor's office if you have questions about what to bring to your visit.

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