Make the most of your doctor’s appointment

Before your next doctor’s appointment, follow the Boy Scout motto and ‘be prepared.’  You’ll likely only get a few precious minutes with your doctor so you need to plan what you will say and ask in order to make the most of your appointment.  
“Physicians are not mind readers,” says Dr. Harley Eisman, director of the Division of Pediatric Emergency at the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). “We want to deliver the best care, but there is not enough time to go through a long list of questions in an effort to determine the reason for the patient’s visit. Patients have to come straight out and list their complaints.”

The first step to getting the most from your doctor’s appointment is to let the receptionist know the reason for your visit so an appropriate amount of time will be reserved with your physicians.

Jot down your health concerns, your aches and pains, your worries etcetera.  Bring the list with you. This works well during visits with your child’s pediatrician. “Parents often have a lot of questions,” says Dr. Eisman. “I will likely answer some of them during the exam; afterwards we can discuss remaining concerns.

Establishing a trusting ongoing relationship with your physician will also contribute to a positive dynamic. “Medicine isn’t a cookbook,” says Dr. Martin Dawes, chair of Family Medicine at McGill University and the MUHC. “Once I know the patient, their fears and perspectives, I can better counsel them.”

Dr. Dawes encourages patients to talk about their worries. This process may reveal relevant family history and bring to light an alternative diagnosis.

Keeping track of your medications and letting the doctor know what is working and what is not working is also critical. “Many patients, especially those with chronic conditions, have many prescriptions,” says Dr. Deborah Radcliffe-Branch, director of Self-Management at the MUHC. “Monitoring and managing symptoms and medications can become a part-time job. Keeping a diary will help the physician plan a strategy.”

Dr. Radcliffe-Branch, advocates “Taking P.A.R.T.” in your healthcare:

  • Prepare for your visit: list main concerns and monitor symptoms
  • Ask questions about the diagnosis, tests, treatments, and follow-up
  • Repeat back the doctor’s conclusion and any instructions 
  • Take action with your health care plan and let your doctor know if follow-up is required

“Patients who engage in collaborative care, shared decision-making, and self-management also experience improved health outcomes,” says Dr. Radcliffe-Branch. “They feel empowered, independent and in control.”

For more information on self-management and living a healthy life with chronic conditions, visit

Christine Zeindler