You wait weeks for an appointment, rearrange your schedule to arrive on time, sit in the waiting room and then, finally, you are face to face with your doctor. This is your chance to get your healthcare needs met. How can you make the most out of your appointment?

Take Note of Your Symptoms

Keep a health diary to track symptoms and complaints. Before your appointment, review your entries and summarize your findings into a few sentences to share with your doctor. “The anxiety inherent in seeing the doctor, as well as the time crunch, makes forgetting what we meant to say way too easy,” says Carol J. Levy, author of A Pained Life, which chronicles her experience as a chronic pain patient.

Know Your Medications and Tests

Arrive at your appointment with a list of the medications you take and the dose at which you take each one. You should also be aware of what tests you have had and when you had them. This eliminates the expense and inconvenience of duplicate testing. The greater the number of doctors involved in your healthcare, the more important this step becomes. Don’t assume that each one knows what the others are doing.

Speak the Language

One of the most powerful things a patient can do is to speak the doctor’s language, according to LaRita B. Jacobs, a health educator for people with chronic illness. Jacobs teaches seminars on communicating with doctors. She advises patients to express their health concerns regarding Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). For example, instead of telling your doctor that your shoulder hurts when you raise your hand above your head, explain that after putting things away in the kitchen cabinets, the pain in your shoulder is so bad that you have to lie down to recover. This gives the doctor a useful context in which to evaluate your condition.

Be an Active Listener

As your doctor talks to you, ask for definitions or clarifications of any words or instructions you don’t understand. Take notes or have someone come with you to take notes while the doctor gives instructions. Paraphrase the information back to your healthcare provider so he or she can determine whether the message has been received clearly. If you are still unsure about something, request additional information.

The bottom line is, a passive patient, who sits back and lets the doctor call the shots, is more likely to leave the office unsatisfied, with lingering questions and festering symptoms. A proactive patient is destined to have a more fulfilling healthcare experience. By following the steps above, you will be well on your way to optimizing your next doctor visit.