Before I became a beauty editor, I went to the dermatologist only when I had a rash—and it had to be a pretty bad one. Now in the service of my job, I've had many consultations. Some of them have been useful (the mole checks). Some of them have been depressing (the ones at which the doc instructs me to look closely into a 10x magnifying mirror and then innocently asks if anything bothers me). But the bottom line is that a consultation with a derm can be like taking a rowboat out into choppy waters: Unless you very deliberately propel yourself in the direction you want to go, you can get battered about by waves of indecision and wind up beached somewhere disagreeably unfamiliar. Like with a forehead full of Botox, for example. It hasn't happened to me, but I've come close.

There are four things crucial to having a good dermatological consultation. Bring with you...

...a complete medical history, including allergies, past surgeries, conditions, all current medications and dosages, and family history of diseases and conditions. Why? Because that information is critical in helping the doctor avoid any possible medication or procedural interactions.

...a written list of your top three medical or cosmetic concerns. Why? The doctor should ask you why you are there. The more quickly and thoroughly you can articulate your reasons, the more time the doctor will have to focus on them and to fill you in on what you can do about them. A 2001 study showed (unsurprisingly) that increased frequency of interruptions leads to less patient satisfaction with an office visit. The more organized you are in presenting your needs, the less likely you are to be thrown off track by an interrupted doctor.

...a pen and a notebook. Why? Because when the doctor offers you his or her advice, you will be able to write it all down. This is really helpful if you want to take some time to consider what your options are.

...a friendly attitude toward the office staff, especially the physician assistants. In my experience, it's the PAs who know the day's schedule. They are the ones who linger with the patient after the doctor has left to be sure that there are no loose ends, unanswered questions, or incomplete follow-up instructions; they can even discuss payment options. 

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