How to Talk 'Doc': Communicating About Your Medications

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Clear communication between patient and healthcare providers is critical in establishing a successful treatment routine. Though a trip to the doctor's office can be intimidating and medical visits may feel fleeting, remember that you can take charge. "Recognize that this is a matter of your health, and you have every right to ask questions," says Michael Wolf of Northwestern University. "No question is a dumb question." To make the most of your next appointment:

· Bring a list of questions. Writing down your concerns beforehand will give you time to think through them without having to battle the distractions of the doctor's office, the rush of the visit, or your nerves.

· Also bring a written record of all your current medications, including over-the-counter and herbal remedies, and a list of allergies, if you have any, to your appointment. The more your doctor knows about your medical history, the better.

· For each medicine you're told to take, make sure you know why it's being prescribed, what it does, how it should be taken, for how long, and whether there are any special instructions for taking it. If you're prescribed a medical device, like an inhaler or a syringe, practice using it in front of your doctor to be sure you're handling it correctly.

· If you have trouble reading prescription instructions, ask your doctor to write out the instructions in clear, readable language that's free of medical jargon. Before leaving, go over them to make sure you comprehend them.

· Describe a typical day to your doctor, nurse, or physician's assistant so that he or she can help you plan your daily schedule to fit in taking medicine.

· If you repeatedly experience difficulty in communicating with your doctor, consider switching physicians. "A doctor [who is] discouraging and unsupportive, blames the patient, or seems not to care" will increase your chances of not taking medication properly, says Robin DiMatteo of the University of California-Riverside.

· Ask your pharmacist to review your medication instructions with you. In many states, pharmacies are legally required to offer prescription counseling services to every patient and to have a designated area in which health information can be discussed privately.