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The time you spend in doctor appointments is vital for diagnosis and treatment, but how well things go depends in part on good communication. So how to make the most of those various encounters?

For starters, think about the patient-doctor relationship as a partnership, advises Dr. Maureen Stevenson, a John Muir Health internist. “Today’s patients are informed and very motivated,” says Stevenson. “At John Muir Health, we work together with patients to accomplish their health care needs.”

To make your doctor-patient collaboration more productive, Stevenson offers the following tips.

  • Bring a list of your questions to doctor visits: Are my symptoms a sign of something serious? Do I need any tests? Am I due for any screenings? (For a helpful checklist, visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Web site, “Write down your concerns ahead of time—don’t rely on your memory,” says Stevenson. “If you can tell your doctor exactly what your concerns are, that helps us get to the root of the problem more easily.”
  • Give your doctor a complete list of the medications you’re taking. Says Stevenson, “Patients don’t always realize that vitamins and other supplements and herbal remedies are also considered medications and can interact with other drugs.”
  • Make sure you understand your current prognosis and the next steps in your diagnosis or treatment. “At the end of my patient visits,” says Stevenson, “I summarize what the patient is supposed to be doing, what physicians are supposed to be doing and what the patient can expect going forward.”
  • To work better with your doctor on your medical concerns, stay informed about good health habits, in general, and about your own health conditions, in particular. Internet sources are a mixed bag, cautions Stevenson. “A lot of Web sites and chat rooms aren’t reliable,” she says. “I encourage people to know as much as they can so they can be proactive about their health, but it’s important to check the information with your physician.”