How to be prepared for any doctor’s visit
Sitting in the exam room waiting for your doctor to show up can be intimidating. You believed you were prepared by having several questions ready to ask, but once they enter the room, you couldn’t think of a single one.
Preparation in life is important and this includes preparation for a doctor’s appointment. From the time the doctor enters the exam room until he leaves, every minute counts. Unfortunately, the average doctor’s appointment lasts about only 15 minutes so once the clock starts ticking, you need to be as efficient as possible to get questions answered and the care you deserve.
Here’s how to maximize each doctor’s visit you have by breaking it down into segments - before the appointment, during the appointment, and before leaving the appointment.
Before the appointment
Making an appointment with a doctor usually falls into 3 categories – a first time get to know you visit, an appointment with your regular primary care physician for an illness/injury/health concern, or a referral with a new physician for an ongoing health condition. Here are important steps to make the visit go smoothly:
· Make sure the physician’s office accepts your health insurance. Call or go online to your insurance website listing a directory of in-network providers.
· When making the appointment, verify that the office takes your insurance.
· Provide information on why you are making the appointment so they can schedule a proper length of time needed.
· When visiting a doctor for the first time, have information listing diseases or health conditions of yourself and first-degree family members, medications you take including herbal supplements and vitamin/mineral supplements, your immunization records, and past surgeries and test results.
· Find someone to come with you to the appointment. They can be your second pair of ears and eyes listening on your behalf, asking questions and writing down or sharing medical information you may forget.
· Remember, to be punctual on the day of the visit. Arrive 15-20 minutes early for your appointment allowing enough time to check in, have your vitals (height, weight, blood pressure) taken beforehand. This also can help get you as much time with your doctor as possible.
During the appointment
· Have ready a list of questions you’d like to ask – be sure to write down which ones you want to talk about. Rank them by priority with your most pressing concerns asked first. Remember, your time may be limited so it’s best to focus on just three or so concerns rather than five or more.
· Describe your symptoms – when they started, location, pain involved, triggers of symptoms, how long it lasts and what seems to alleviate them.
· Be completely honest about everything physically, mentally, and emotionally. A doctor has heard it all so there is no need to be embarrassed. Holding back information or shading the truth could jeopardize your health and will not help the doctor make the most accurate diagnosis.
· If relevant, share any changes or new conditions of first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) with your doctor. Your family history is a very important tool for predicting your risk for disease.
Before leaving the appointment
· Before the doctor walks out the door, find out if and when you need a return visit.
· Ask about any warning signs for your condition and when to be concerned or to call in.
· Make sure you thoroughly understand your medical condition, the treatment plan and the long-term outlook.
· If any new medications are prescribed, be sure you understand what it is for, how to take it and what side effects it could have.
· Ask about what is the best way to reach the doctor if you have further questions – by email, phone and what hours are best to do so.
Other important tips to make the visit go as smoothly as possible
· Have good manners. Most doctors will make a good attempt at building rapport with you but you also need to share some of that responsibility. Smiling, extending your hand to shake theirs, having a good attitude, all help to make the visit as productive and positive as possible. To also strengthen the patient/doctor relationship, have a kind word or show interest in your doctor to help you both relate to one another on a personal level.
· Be relaxed during the visit. It’s natural to be nervous or anxious when visiting a doctor, but remember they are here to help you. To help you relax, take a few deep breaths before the doctor arrives and remember your doctor is on your side wanting to help you get the most out of the visit as possible.