Questions to Ask at Your Next Doctor’s Appointment

As doctors’ patient loads continue to increase, it’s important patients come armed to their appointments prepared to make sure they get the most out of dwindling face time.

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Physicians bear the greater burden of improving the dialogue, as even the most prepared patient can get flustered in the presence of an authoritarian physician, says Dominick Frosch, a fellow in the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s patient care program.

The Affordable Care Act may have shined the spotlight on shared decision making in patients’ health care, and Kelly Haskard-Zolnierek, associate professor of psychology at Texas State University, says patients should embrace this concept as well to improve their care.

“A patient brings her personal experience [to the medical visit] and knows herself and her health much better than the physician,” says Haskard-Zolnierek. “The ideal situation is that the doctor listens and dialogues with the patient to figure out what’s wrong and discuss the best way to treat it.”

Whether patients are headed to get their eyes checked or about to open wide for the dentist, here are tips and questions they should come armed with to make the most of their visit.

The Eyes Have It

Consumers tend to think of eye exams as solely vision checks, says Dr. Calvin W. Roberts, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Bausch + Lomb .

“People assume if they see fine, they are fine, claims Roberts. “But eyes are a window to the body. A thorough eye exam tells a lot about a patient’s general health.”

Thanks to advanced imaging of retinal scan technology, ophthalmologists can take a photo of the back of the eye to see one of the two smallest blood vessel pathways in the body—the other are in the kidneys—where conditions like vascular diseases or metastasis of cancers like breast or lung cancers  manifest themselves even before a patient is showing symptoms.

Similarly glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy show in a retinal scan before a patient has difficulty seeing.

Roberts suggests you ask three important questions:

  • What do you see when you look at blood vessels in my retina?
  • Am I at risk for developing glaucoma or macular degeneration?
  • Is there anything about my eyes that makes you concerned about my general health?

If early diagnosis is the operative word for adults, it is also an imperative for children. Every youngster needs to have a thorough eye exam around age four, advises Roberts. Youngsters don’t know if one eye is seeing better than the other nor are they always aware that their distance vision is not as sharp as it should be—conditions that left untended can lead to poor academic performance when they enter school.

School nurses screen kids in school and send them on to an eye doctor if a youngster shows deficits. Without symptoms, a school-age youngster should go to an eye doctor every five years, advises Roberts.

When you’re over 35 and without symptoms, he suggests an eye exam every two years. Starting at age 60, adults should have yearly exams.

Open Wide

Consumers tend to associate a trip to the dentist with cavities, and while uncovering cavities is important, dentists are also on the lookout for soft tissue and gum disease, says Dr. James Bramson, chief dental officer for United Concordia Dental.

Cancers of the mouth and throat are serious and prevalent problems, he says. Similarly, systemic diseases like diabetes often are able to be detected through the mouth.

“Associative connections now are clearer,” he says. For example, we now understand a diabetic is more likely to have periodontal disease and at a very aggressive level.

Still, Bramson says intervention helps, as evidenced by Concordia’s oral health study demonstrating improving people’s gum health makes them healthier and significantly lowers their medical costs. According to the study, individuals with certain conditions experienced annual cost savings through the treatment of gum disease. With diabetes patients, the $3,291 savings included pharmaceutical and medical cost savings.  Patients with other diseases experienced the following medical cost savings: heart disease, $2,956; cerebrovascular disease or stroke, $1,029; rheumatoid arthritis, $3, 964; and pregnancy, $2, 430.

Bramson advises you to ask these questions when visiting your dentist.

  • Is there anything of concern? Do you see old fillings that may ultimately need replacement?
  • If your dentist discovers a major problem, what are potential treatment complications, what is his/her expertise and are there alternate treatments?
  • How can you improve your dental hygiene?

Your Local Pharmacist: Always Accessible

Getting to know the pharmacists can be advantageous to consumers’ health, says Steve Lawrence, senior vice president, independent sales, in Cardinal Health’s pharmaceutical distribution division.

He says cultivating a relationship in the typical two- to-five minutes  people spend picking up medications can end up paying dividends through things like free blood pressure checks, diabetes counseling and immunizations. In-between doctor visits, the pharmacist can provide health coaching and continual patient care in the medication adherence that leads to successful outcomes.

What’s more, getting the counsel to identify emergent situations sooner rather than later can prevent adverse reactions or a worsening medical state.

Advancement in medical care has made prescription drugs prevalent as antidotes to many health conditions, chronic or otherwise. Though positive,  Lawrence says there is a tendency for all of us to take medications without considering any possible alternatives or consequences.

Before taking any new medicine, Lawrence suggests asking:

  • Can you mix two particular medicines or the new script with your vitamin or mineral supplements?
  • Does your new medicine affect the effectiveness of other scripts you’re taking?
  • Is alcohol off limits?