Getting the Most from Your Doctor's Visit

by Linda Shapero

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Have you ever gone to the doctor, driven home, and then remembered an important question you had forgotten to ask? Having done this a few times myself, I decided I needed to be more prepared before I even stepped into the waiting room.

I don't know how your doctor's practice works, but in mine, after waiting in the reception area, you are shown to an examining room where you wait a few minutes (at the very least) to see the doctor. When they come in the room, they immediately turn on their laptop and start to verbally fling information at you. In one sense, this is a good thing because they can quickly update your file with needed changes. Because the total time spent in the exam room now averages about ten minutes, most of it is spent exchanging information in this manner, with a very small amount of time spent by the doctor on an actual exam.

Whether or not that's how your doctor works, my point is that now more than ever because office visits have become so short, it is your responsibility to prepare in advance. With that in mind, I offer the following suggestions to help you make the most of the time spent with your doctor:

  1. If you are seeing a new doctor, when you make the appointment, ask them to send you the paper work to fill out at home. If this is possible, you can fill in the blanks using your medical records at home at your leisure. This beats sitting in the waiting room and trying to remember what year you had that last tetanus shot or who in your extended family has heart problems. Also, if you have your medical records from your former doctor, write yourself a reminder to take them along to your appointment. If you don't have them, you will have to fill out a release form that will allow your new doctor's office to obtain them.
  2. Take a list of all medications, and even vitamins and/or herbs, you take on a regular basis, together with the dosage and how often you take them. This is crucial for a first visit. After the initial visit, if there are any changes made, you will need to update your list. It's also a good idea to keep a copy of it in your wallet, in case you have an emergency and land in the hospital. They will need to know what you are taking, and you may not be in any condition to tell them.
  3. Make a list of all questions and concerns you have. This includes things such as whether or not your medication can be changed to a generic one, the pain you've had in your shoulder for the past four weeks, etc.
  4. If new prescriptions are written for you, ask the doctor to explain what they are, how they will help, dosage, approximate cost, possible drug interactions with anything else you are taking, etc. This is the time to ask all your questions about any new medications. Also, find out how long they will need to be taken to show results as well as the possibility of any adverse reactions.
  5. If you are seeing your doctor to find out about a specific condition which you haven't spoken about previously, ask the cause of the problem, what tests might be called for to diagnose the problem, what your treatment options are, the safety of all treatment options, as well as benefits and risks, and the prognosis. The doctor may not be able to answer all your questions at this time. However, you can be sure that they will tell you as much as they can initially. You most likely will have to wait for test results for other answers.
  6. Ask if you will need another appointment to follow up on anything, and, if so, when you need to return. If you do, be sure to schedule it while you are there, as it is easy to go home and forget all about scheduling another appointment. Most offices will call to remind you of your appointment the day before, if you happen to forget.

By now, you've probably thought of a few things to add to this list. Hopefully, these will all help you have a better experience at the doctor's office.

Take the Next Step:

  • Have a doctor's appointment in the near future? Because the total time spent in the exam room now averages about ten minutes, it is important to prepare in advance. Follow the above suggestions and make the most of the time spent with your doctor.
  • Start a medical organizer to keep all of your family's important medical information in one place. Create your own or buy one.
  • Don't let your finances end up in the emergency room. Here are 10 ways to deal with an expensive emergency room bill.

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