What to Prepare for a Doctor Visit

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Visits with our doctor are short and to the point. Their time is limited because they have so many patients to see per day. Still, now more than ever we must realize that healthcare is something that we buy and pay for. We expect to get exactly what we order at a restaurant. Why should we expect less from our doctor?

While I would agree that the doctor is the only one who can determine if what I am asking for is in my best interests, I do believe I have a right to understand my medical plan of care, to participate in medical decision making, to request changes that are more suitable to me, and to ask for changes or elimination of various medications and treatments. The answer may be no or not now, but I do have the right to ask.

I have found that most people do not know how to be adequately prepared for a doctor visit nor do they know what they would really like to get out of it. Many do not understand the goals of their medical care and treatment. Taking a few moments before each doctor visit can ensure that you get what you need, want and expect.

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Have Clear Expectations for Your Visit With Your Doctor

When we make purchases in the grocery store we have lots of choices. There are different brands, sizes, styles, degrees of freshness, frozen items. Because we are paying with our hard earned money, we are very comfortable looking over all of the items to be sure we get what we want and need. We make sure that we don't get too little or too much. We may decide to try an item just to see if we like it or how it performs. And some items we choose to leave behind to pick up another time.

Going to the doctor is no different. Paying the doctor is no different than paying the grocer or dry cleaner. We have to know going into the visit what we want to leave with.

Before going to the doctor ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do I understand the goals of my current medications and treatments (my care plan)?
  • Am I sick right now and in need of a new medication or treatment?
  • Am I comfortable with my current medications and treatments?
  • Do I need any refill prescriptions?
  • Do I want to request generic medication prescriptions to save some money?
  • What would I like to have added to my medications and treatments?
  • What would I like to eliminate from my medications and treatments?
  • If I need a new treatment, what are my options?
  • If I have a chronic illness, am I doing well or getting worse?
  • Do I understand everything about my illness and my health?

Asking yourself these types of questions before going to the doctor will help you form an expectation of what you want to get from the visit. You should leave with your questions answered and feeling like you had a meaningful visit with your personal medical consultant, your doctor.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor at Your Visit

Now that you have asked yourself a few questions about what your personal needs and wants are regarding your medical care, it's time to think about what you want to ask your doctor. Questions for your doctor are any of those you asked yourself that did not have a satisfactory answer. No question is too trivial. As they say, "The only dumb question is the one that isn't asked."

I recommend taking a few moments to write your questions and requests down in a notebook. Take your notebook with you when you see your doctor. The doctor will also appreciate that you have taken the time to consider your own health as well as be able to proceed with answering your questions in a timely manner. In other words, the visit can still be time efficient if you have your questions and requests organized. This benefits both you and your doctor.

Doctor Visit Checklist

  • Questions for my doctor
  • My medications
  • Current insurance information
  • Lab and other reports
  • Living Will
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Bring All Medications with You to Your Doctor Visit

There are many good reasons to bring your medications with you when you see your doctor. Perhaps you see more than one doctor and have prescriptions from both. Maybe you take herbal supplements, vitamins and other over the counter medications. Anything that you take on a regular basis should be put into a resealable plastic bag and taken with you to your visit. This is a fool proof way to ensure that your doctor knows everything you are taking and can prevent adverse drug reactions and other problems. Make a note in your notebook to ask for refill prescriptions of the medications you need.

Bring Your Insurance Information

Because medical offices update their patient records periodically, it is a good idea to bring your insurance information when you visit your doctor. This will eliminate the burden of mailing or faxing the form in later.

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Bring Lab and Diagnostic Reports

My mother is a great record keeper. When she married my father more than 50 years ago, they began a medical odyssey. Over the years she has always asked for a personal copy of any laboratory blood test results, CT scan and x-ray reports. She has made a point to record my dad's weight and blood pressure at each visit.

I am not suggesting that everyone needs to be this diligent. But, your medical record is your property. Why not ask for a copy of these results to have for yourself. Keep them filed in a notebook with the most recent on top. That way, you will never have to wait for one office to send your records to another office.

If you have them, bring any recent laboratory, x-ray or other diagnostic reports when you visit your doctor. Again, because you may be seeing more than one doctor, this will ensure that both are up to date on your condition.

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Bring a Copy of Your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare to Your Doctor Visit

If you have taken the time to create a Living Will or a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare you should bring these documents to your doctor visit. Be sure that the doctor's office makes a copy of both. In the event you are diagnosed with a terminal OR are unable to speak for yourself, these tools will be vital to providing your medical care. Always keep your original documents.

All too often I have asked patients and families for copies of these documents and am told, "We have them done. They are in the safety deposit box." Unfortunately, locked away in a safety deposit box these tools will not be able to help you in a time of medical crisis. Do what you can to put them in the hands of your healthcare providers. I further recommend that copies of your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare be given to family members, the hospital you usually use, and your pastor.

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