How To Get The Most Out Of A Doctor's Visit: Things To Do Before, During, And After

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An appointment with a doctor is an important meeting that you should properly prepare for. When you walk into the doctor’s office, you should have clear goals and be able to have an informed conversation with the doctor about your or your loved one’s condition.

During the appointment, it’s important to clarify everything that you are confused or uncertain about. At the end of the visit, you should have a better understanding of what causes the symptoms, a clear picture of the treatment options, and an agreement on a treatment plan that you are comfortable with. The treatment plan should make sense to you and be acceptable to you.   

I know, this sounds like you might have to be a real pain in the..... Well, if you have to, then so be it. This is about you, your body, your health, and you are the one who has the most to lose if the wrong decision is made. So, speak up, be the best advocate for yourself or your loved one if you are a caregiver. And if you have a good doctor, he or she will understand your concern and support you in making the right decision.

Below, I listed lots of tips and ideas for you. Go through them and take note of the ones that you think would be the most beneficial to you. Write them down and use them to prepare for your next appointment.

Before the appointment:

  • Get the medical records organized. If you are going to a new doctor, put together your medical history, including all hospitalizations, surgeries, diagnoses, family medical history, and a list of other doctors/specialists who are treating you. Bring any changes to the medical record since the last appointment, like new medications prescribed by other physicians or new test results.

  • Do your homework. Do your research about the medical condition, symptoms, and treatment options, so you can have an informed conversation with the doctor.

  • Make a list of questions and concerns. Arrange the list from the most to the least urgent. Ask other caregivers about new issues, changes, or concerns.

  • Make a list of all medicines and their schedule. You can also bring all pill bottles (prescription, over-the-counter, and supplements) in a zip-lock bag.

  • Think about and write down your goals for the visit. What would you like the doctor to address, for example, adjust or review medications, get pain or other symptoms under control, make a referral, order additional testing or preventive screening, coordinate care with other doctors/specialists.

  • Keep a record of symptoms, vital signs, or changes. Document the intensity or frequency of new or ongoing symptoms, such as blood sugar, blood pressure measurements, severity of pain, side effects etc. The doctor needs to know if the treatment is effective or the details of new symptoms.

  • Bring a family member or a friend. They will be your advocate and will help you make sure that all the questions are addressed.

During the appointment:

  • Take notes. You might not remember everything that the doctor said, but you will have your notes to refer to.

  • Ask all the questions from your list. Check them off as you go through them.

  • Speak up. Don’t be afraid to clarify information, ask additional questions, or express concerns. Ask a question more than once, if you are still confused about the explanation that the doctor provided.

  • Call during the appointment to talk to the doctor, if you are a caregiver and can’t make it to the appointment.

  • Ask about potential side effects and interactions, if the doctor is prescribing any new medications.

  • Ask to explain the reasoning behind any new treatments that the doctor prescribes. Ask if there are alternatives.

  • Find out when the doctor wants to see you again.

  • If the doctor refers you to a specialist, ask the receptionist to schedule the appointment for you. You might get in a lot sooner.

  • Ask how to get in touch with the doctor if you have any additional questions after the appointment.

After the appointment:

  • Go through your notes. Make sure you understand everything that was discussed, call back if you are not sure you understand any instructions or what to expect next.

  • Schedule any tests or appointments that were ordered by the doctor.

  • Pick up new medications from a pharmacy.

  • Update other caregivers on any changes.

  • Review doctor’s recommendations with your loved one.

  • Keep a journal of symptoms, vital signs, ongoing changes, so you will be prepared for the next visit.

What to do next:

Get organized and come up with a system that would make sense for you, would be easy to find information in, and easy to update. Whether you decide to use an old-fashioned notebook or keep records electronically, make sure that your system is easy for you to use. You might have to tweak it over time, if you find that it takes you too long to find information you are looking for.

If you have your own tips or advice on preparing for a doctor’s visit, leave them in the comments section below.

Thank you for reading!