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doi: 10.1097/01.HEARTI.0000422224.96052.2e

Make the Most of Your Next Doctor's Visit (Online Bonus)

Gordon, Sandra

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Whether you're going in for a check-up or visiting the doctor because you have symptoms, adopt a “team player” attitude. Your doctor may have the specific scientific knowledge to analyze your condition, but it's your job to provide the story. Here's what you can do to get the most from your next doctor's visit to increase your chances of getting the best treatment and preventive care.

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A prescription for help

Can't afford the medications you need? Depending on your circumstances, these resources may be able to help you get your prescriptions at a discount or for free.

Eldercare Locator Community Assistance for Seniors


Medicare's Extra Help Program


Partnership for Prescription Assistance


Rx Assist Patient Assistance Program Center


Take notes at your appointment. “It's a good idea even if you're just going in for a check-up,” says Clyde W. Yancy, M.D., MSc, chief of the Division of Cardiology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Having a firm understanding of why and what you're asked to do increases your chances of following through with your recommended treatment or prevention plan, which may involve taking medication, even if you feel fine.

Bring someone with you to your appointment who can speak for you if English isn't your first language, your doctor doesn't speak your language and a translator isn't available.

Know your numbers. What's your blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, your fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, body mass index and waist circumference? How do your numbers compare to the ideal? To keep close tabs on your numbers, get a copy of your lab report from your doctor. When you know where you stand, you're more likely to follow your doctor's recommendations for managing your important health factors.

The Know Your Numbers chart at right can help you figure out how close your numbers are to the ideal.

Take your medication as prescribed. According to the American Heart Association, it's estimated that only 7 percent of people with cardiovascular disease take their medication as prescribed. It's more than a matter of being organized, though a pill box can help if you're on multiple medications. “It's also about being motivated to want to thrive,” says Margaret Moore, co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital in Boston and co-author of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life (Harlequin).

To stoke your self-discipline, dig deep and focus on the bigger picture about why your health matters. Do you want to take care of yourself so you're more likely to be around to watch your grandkids grow up? So you won't age as fast? “Vanity works for me,” Moore says. If, on the other hand, affording medication is the issue, talk to your doctor. He or she is likely to know how you can get medication for free or at a discount (see A prescription for help) and may also be able to suggest medications that can be taken just once a day or recommend alternative drugs that are less expensive.

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Know your numbers

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© 2012 American Heart Association, Inc.