The average medical appointment lasts just 20 minutes. Racing through an exam might make it hard to address your health concerns or ask questions about a diagnosis, and that could have a serious impact on your health.

A study published in Annals of Family Medicine found that patients who assigned their doctors high ratings for listening to their concerns, offering easy to understand explanations and showing respect for their needs were in better health than those whose doctors had lower scores. In short, stronger doctor-patient relationships were associated with better health.

“These relationship efforts…allow healthcare providers to personalize and integrate your health care and promote your health ,” explained study lead R. Henry Olaisen PhD, MPH, adjunct assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University.

Developing a better relationship with your healthcare provider could be the key to improving your health. Try these 6 strategies before your next appointment.

Be prepared : Before your appointment, make a list of all of your concerns from new symptoms or medication side effects to current needs such as a flu shot or medication refill. Rate the items and ask about the most important things at the beginning of the appointment.

“We may have to schedule a follow-up appointment to get to everything on the list but at least we looked at the most serious thing first,” said Kathryn Boling MD, a family medicine specialist with Mercy Personal Physicians in Baltimore, MD.




Show up on time : The later you are for your scheduled appointment, the less time you’ll have to spend with the doctor. Dr. Boling suggested showing up 15 minutes early—and calling ahead if you need to reschedule.


Update your doctor : Your doctor needs to know about any medical care you’ve received since your last appointment, including emergency room visits or any changes to your medication. The information will help doctors make the best decisions about your current care.

Ask questions : If something doesn’t make sense or you need more information, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Dr. Olaisen also suggested asking what your doctor needs from you to personalize your healthcare, explaining, “ By asking this question, you engage your primary care clinician more deeply ….and it allows you to learn about how you can communicate more effectively,” he added . Making a list of questions before your appointment can ensure all of your questions are addressed.

Write it down : Don’t rely on your memory to follow treatment recommendations. Patients accurately remember less than half of what their doctors tell them, according to research published in the journal PLOS One. Take notes during your appointment—or use your smartphone to record information—to ensure you’re following their advice.

“A lot of my patients come in with notepads,” Dr. Boling said. “It’s better to take notes than leave and think, ‘Now, what did she say?’”

Be honest : Whether you kept eating junk food after a diagnosis of high cholesterol or stopped taking a prescribed medication due to side effects, tell your doctor.

“If you’re honest, it helps me figure out what I need to do to get you motivated to make changes,” Dr. Boling said. “If you don’t tell me the truth, I miss an opportunity to help improve your health.”

Jodi Helmer writes about health for AARP, Woman’s Day, HealthCentral and others.