Ask questions, have trust and don't hide details… it helps your doctor diagnose and treat your problem accurately, says Geeta Padmanabhan

This took place in an orthopaedic surgeon's chamber.

Doc: For how long have you had pain in the knee?

X: For quite some time.

Doc: How many months?

X: Mmm... Since I returned from the U.S., that is, it disappeared for a while and then my daughter came for a visit...

You can see this consultation is going nowhere. When doctors tell you “don't hide anything” they aren't quite looking for family events. A leisurely chat with the doc is a feel-good thing, but how does that help decide the course of treatment? When you're not specific about your complaints, prefer to hide things the doctor needs to know, or show attitude (he's the doctor, let him find out!), you end up with more tests, more consultations, and eventually more expense.

Want to upgrade yourself as a patient? Dr. Scott Haig describes the ideal patient in Newsweek: She listens carefully, asks good questions, communicates her problems well, has reasonable expectations, shows trust and is respectful. She has looked things up about her condition.

Her knowledge is useful, and the doctors are going to work hard with her.

Nephrologist Dr. Muthu Jayaraman has this Rx for getting the best of the doctor's expertise: “Tell the doctor all about your past/present illnesses in detail,” she says patiently. In clinical medicine, talking is an art. “Physical details given precisely can unfold half the diagnosis.” Also, don't make clinical examination difficult by refusing to remove your vest, dupatta or burqa. They “mask clinical findings”. “You can always ask for a woman attender to be present.”

For a second opinion, go to a specialist rather than the Internet, she suggests. If you insist on browsing, go for advice from experts and medical journals, not from blogs and tweets. Get the tests and other investigations done as ordered by the doctor. If you have doubts, discuss them with your physician, not with a friend or neighbour. That over, stick to the treatment prescribed. Take the proper dosage and complete the duration. Any adverse reaction, get the doctor's attention. “Have faith in your doctor. They take up this profession to heal patients, not to harm them.” Co-operate. There's benefit in it for you.

Be involved

Yes, as a patient you are in pain and fear, are stressed about the uncertainty, time off, cost and probable lifestyle change. But active interest in your care is a must. If you can't, get someone to do the research about procedures. “I got the surgeon to explain with X-rays exactly what was wrong with my husband's heart and what he was going to do,” said Vinita, after her husband's quintuple bypass at Apollo. “I did my home-work, went through his medical chart every day. Together we made sure the recovery was swift and uneventful.” She added smiling, “The doctors voted him an excellent patient.”

Medicate with care

Find out the names and purpose of the pills that you pop in, the needle jabs you endure. How do they work? What if there are side effects? Ask your doctor to explain in plain, simple language. Most doctors and nurses appreciate it.

Know your rights

Read the patient-rights-and-safety-goals manual that hospitals have. At MIOT doctors tell you about avoiding falls after knee replacement surgery. Sri Ramachandra has elaborate instructions on hygiene. Follow post-op physiotherapy/diet instructions carefully. Read test results. If you don't hear from the doctor after a test, call. A million things could have happened — lost, ignored, or forgotten.

Ask

Everyone feels a little stupid on the examination table, so shrug it off. Tell it as it is, without exaggeration. Ditto about kid. Not sure, you understood? Ask for clarification. There is no such thing as a dumb question. If you're not taking the prescription medication say so. Is it cost? Side effects? Too many times a day? Get it fixed at once.

No one wants to be a patient. Hospitals are not amusement parks. Prevent illness with a sensible diet-exercise-sleep-leisure plan. But if you happen to become ill, aim for the best care a doctor can provide. Be a good patient.

Be a good patient

* Be on time for appointments. Your delay starts a ripple down the line. All those waiting are patients.

* Can't keep an appointment? Call to inform.

* Write down all your information and questions. Be ready when you meet the doctor. Bring someone along.

* Do not use your cell phone when in the doctor's chamber or in the waiting area. Go outside if you have to take the call.

* Don't bring the children unless it is for them. Do you expect the office staff to baby-sit while you consult the doctor?