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I have a family history of melanoma, and to make matters worse, I spent way too many of my teenage summers slathered in baby oil, lying in the sun. My skin-cancer risk is relatively high, so I get regular exams. This time, I was seeing a new dermatologist. She barreled into the room, gave me a quick once-over while she jabbered to the nurse about another patient, then left. She'd barely glanced at my skin, much less given me a chance to ask her anything. I knew that if she had missed a cancerous mole in her hurry to complete the exam, it could mean the difference between life and death -- to me.
Fortunately, it didn't, but her brusque manner had left me tongue-tied, vulnerable and ill at ease, an all too common experience for patients today. "Doctors stand over us while we're lying on exam tables and call us by our first names while we call them by their titles," says Jonathan H. Amsbary, Ph.D., an associate professor of health communications at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. "Plus, they're clothed and we're not. Of course we feel uncomfortable!"
However, from wrong diagnoses to prescriptions for medications that don't help, studies show that poor doctor-patient communication is to blame in many cases of bad health care. So it's vital to know what to say and when to say it during all health-related visits -- including those with dentists and dietitians. Below (under "Related Stories"), advice on how to better navigate your nextappointment.