How to make the most of your doctor's visit

Improve doctor visits

The New Year could give you new ways to improve your regular visits to the doctor, but how can you make your exam time most worthwhile? "Be empowered" and come "armed with information," advises CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula.

"So first, you want to bring your medications, bring the bottles, bring pictures of the bottles so the doctor knows the dosage and frequency," Narula said. "Talk to your family before your visit, ask did your aunt Fran have a thyroid problem? Does your mother have high blood pressure? That's very important." 

Also, she recommended keeping a diary of symptoms and getting copies of medical records, which she said "is your right."

"I can't tell you how many people have no idea what their chest X-ray showed that they had a year ago, or their stress test. That information is very useful. Keep those copies. Bring all that information to your visit," Narula said.

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Dr. Tara Narula CBS News

Last but not least, Narula said you should bring a friend or family member who can help take notes or listen during the appointment "because lots of times when you're in the office, the information goes in one ear and out the other."

"You're very overwhelmed. Having someone there who can kind of corroborate symptoms, add information and keep notes is useful," she said.

Getting lab tests done before a checkup can sometimes be helpful if you've been seeing the same doctor for a while and you know that they order specific tests each year, Narula said.

"Then you can then sit face-to-face with the doctor and go over the results when you see them," she said. "However, if you're a new patient, the doctor may want to order specific tests particular to whatever condition they're looking at you for, and then you would get stuck twice, essentially, so it may make sense to wait in that case."

Narula said ask the doctor questions about screenings, vaccinations, cardiovascular risk and how the office functions (will they follow up?). But ultimately, establishing personal connection with your physician is the most important.

"This is like a marriage. It's a very important personal relationship. You're emotionally vulnerable, you're physically vulnerable. You want to know, is this someone who's going to listen to me, who communicates in a way that I understand, and who responds to my concerns in a way that's appropriate?" Narula said.

But don't have second thoughts about asking for second opinions.

"People lots of times feel uncomfortable about that. But the bottom line is: this is your health. You need to be in charge and the doctor should not get offended if you ask for a second opinion," Narula said.