- Don't make hasty treatment decisions.
Ask your doctor how long it's medically safe for you to wait before choosing a course of treatment. "The diagnosis of a serious health problem is scary, but it's rarely an emergency," says Katz. As a general rule, he advises against making treatment decisions on the spot. Get details about your diagnosis and treatment and read them at home, at your own pace. Always ask your doctor if she has discussed all the options with you, including what will happen if you do nothing.
- When seeing a new physician, surgeon, or specialist, ask the scheduler how long you'll have with the doctor.
The answer will help you prepare for the meeting. For instance, new patient appointments are usually lengthy, allowing you plenty of time to quiz the doctor on the intricacies of your diagnosis and treatment options. But if it's just a ten-minute follow-up, be judicious with your questions, says Clay. "If you can find the answer elsewhere, don't waste your time with the doctor."
- Turn a three-ring binder into your healthcare journal.
This is the place for everything you gather about your condition. Add blank pages for notes, and dividers with pockets for test results, physician messages, and treatment information. Take it with you to every doctor's appointment. If you are admitted to the hospital, entrust it to an accompanying friend or relative should there be any question about your health history. "One of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming the hospital will have a complete and accurate copy of their medical records," says Clay.
- Go to every appointment armed with a tape or digital voice recorder and, when possible, a smart friend or family member.
"You may think you're this incredibly organized person who will remember everything the doctor says, but—take my word for it—you won't," says Clay. "You hear the first and last thing they say, and very little in between." A spouse or trusted friend can jot down notes, lend an outside perspective, and ask questions; the recorder will capture every last detail and can be replayed later in a calmer setting.