Almost half of primary-care doctors in the U.S. typically spend 15 minutes or less with their patients. Here are some ways to make the most of those minutes. 

1. Plan ahead. It’s easy to forget what you want to ask when you’re being poked and prodded, says Mary Talen, Ph.D., director of primary-care behavioral health education at Northwestern University’s Family Medicine Residency Program in Chicago. She has found that writing down concerns ahead of time greatly improves doctor-patient communication.

2. Prioritize. Identify your three main health concerns and talk about the most important one first, suggests Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser. That’s the one your doctor will spend the most time on. If you have a longer list, ask whether a lengthier visit is possible when you schedule your appointment.

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3. Bring your meds. At least once a year bring in all your prescription and OTC drugs and supplements so your doctor can check for unnecessary ones and interactions. And if it’s the first time you’re seeing a doctor, have your previous doctor send copies of your medical records.

4. Take notes. Don’t expect to remember everything your doctor says, especially if you’re not feeling well or you get a worrisome diagnosis. Write it down, record it, or bring someone with you to take notes.

5. Take advantage of your care team. Clear communication may not be your doctor’s strength. But there often are people in the office trained to talk with patients, and they may have more time, Talen says. So ask, for example, whether the office has a dietitian to discuss weight loss, a diabetes educator to go over strategies for managing the condition, or a nurse who can better explain how to give yourself an injection.

6. Expect quality time. Physicians today spend much of their time with their back to patients as they enter data into a computer. That’s because of the electronic health records they now use, which can make drug errors less likely and ensure that doctors cover essential points. But that can also make visits impersonal. If you think that your doctor focuses too much on the screen or that your concerns are routinely left unaddressed, consider looking for a new physician, Lipman suggests.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.