It used to be that going to the doctor always felt like walking into elementary school-someone else had all the answers and you didn't even know what the questions were supposed to be. But thanks to the increase in sources and types of health information, now we can all walk into the doctor's office prepared with questions and ideas about our own health issues. Today most doctors treat their patients as knowledgeable adults who have educated themselves about illnesses and treatment options-in fact, responsibility is shifting to the patient to be an active participant in the process.

One of the biggest challenges that people with diabetes have is keeping in close contact with their doctor over the long term. Doctors are busy people, but regular conversation with your healthcare providers gives you the best chance to control your diabetes and reduce your risk of complications. Here are some tips to help you maximize the time spent with your doctor and keep the lines of communication open as you manage your diabetes health plan:

  • Sit down and think about your upcoming visit: the reason for the visit and any change in your diabetes or other illnesses you may have had since the last time you saw the doctor.

  • If you have particular symptoms to report, think about what time of day they happen, how long they last, whether they have been getting worse or better, and whether or not they interfere with your daily activities.

  • Prepare a list of questions and concerns beforehand (it's not as easy to think when you're on that exam table!). Prioritize your list so that you make sure to get your most pressing concerns addressed.

  • Provide a complete list of medications (prescription and over-the-counter), including any pain relievers, vitamins, supplements, and herbs you are taking or have taken recently.

  • Research (online, at the library, or through your insurance company) new treatments or medications for diabetes that you may want to discuss with your doctor.

  • Make notes of what the doctor says. You can do this in the exam room or in the waiting room after your appointment. Be sure that you know what the doctor said and that you understand any medical terms he or she used. If not, ask for an explanation before you leave.

You should be comfortable asking questions of your healthcare providers, talking about all of your medical issues, and being honest about how well you stick to your diet, exercise, and medication plan. Otherwise, it's time to make a change. If you have new information about diabetes, diabetes products, or diabetes medications to discuss with your doctor, make sure you talk about them during your visit. Remember that you are the ultimate director of your treatment plan. Often, your doctor will have advance knowledge of products and medications-if not, maybe you can provide him or her with a learning experience!

Because physicians are often pressed for time, you may wish to arrange a phone call after office hours to explore issues further. Doctors often make calls from the office after they have finished seeing patients. Establishing a good relationship with members of the office staff helps communication as well. They often have significant medical knowledge and can pass questions directly to the doctor in between appointments.

The main message: sit and think, do research, come prepared, ask questions, and persist until your questions are answered.

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For More Information

  • The National Institute on Aging: "Talking with Your Doctor"

  • WebMD: "Getting the Care You Need"

  • The American Diabetes Association

  • The American Medical Association

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Rick Mendosa