Preparing for your doctor’s visit

“I don’t get to spend enough time with my doctor” is a common concern for many patients. I can assure you, your doctor feels the same way and would like to spend more time with you too. But there are ways you can make the most of the time you have with your doctor. I encourage my patients to prepare for their visit with me so our time together is more productive and less rushed.

Here are some tips for making your visit with your doctor more satisfying for both of you:

Write down your concerns and bring your notes with you to your appointment. If something unusual is going on, remembering seemingly unrelated symptoms may tie everything together. If your appointment is with a new doctor, it is helpful to make all of your concerns known. It is also helpful to be aware of the length of your appointment. If you have only 15 minutes with your physician, it may be a good idea to schedule a follow-up appointment to ensure you have plenty of time to cover all your concerns.

Take a few moments to briefly list your family history before your appointment with a new physician. It is helpful to note your family members who have had cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke or heart conditions. Your new physician will want to review your family history with you and discuss how that history relates to your treatment and care.

Bring a list of your medications and their doses to each of your appointments—or even bring a bag with your medicines, including supplements and vitamins. I often hear from patients, “Isn’t that information in my medical chart?” Medications are listed in patient’s medical records, but changes made by other providers, clinics or hospitals may not be included. Keeping your list of medications up-to-date and reconciled with your medical record is important and requires constant vigilance.

Bring any lab reports or old medical records you may have to your appointment with your primary care physician, especially if you have received medical testing from a physician or clinic that is not your normal provider. Copying or recording information from these into your medical records can be quite helpful. The heel scan or finger-stick cholesterol test you had done at a health fair at the mall? Bring that report too.

Call your physician’s office in advance to find out if you need to do anything to prepare for routine or scheduled tests. For example, if you are going to have blood testing for cholesterol or blood sugar, you’ll be asked to skip breakfast. A 10-to-12-hour fast is preferred before these tests. On the other hand, it is a common misconception that all blood work requires fasting. It’s distressing to me—and my patient—when I find my patient wilting and hungry toward the end of the day when they didn’t need to fast.

Bring another set of ears. If your visit is to discuss something big, such as a new diagnosis of diabetes, surgery or a procedure, bring along someone you trust to listen and ask questions with you. Studies show that a patient typically remembers only a small fraction of what they are told in the visit. A companion or family member will help you remember more.

Preparing for your visit ahead of time can be invaluable. It will ensure your questions are answered and that you receive the best healthcare. When you are an active partner in your care, your doctor can do a better job of helping you meet your personal health objectives.