How to Get the Most Out of Your Medical Appointments
Maybe you have chronic health issues or a new health concern. Maybe it’s your first visit with a new doctor, or it might be time for your annual physical exam. No matter your reason for seeing the doctor, there are steps you can take to prepare in advance and make sure you get the most out of your medical appointments. This checklist can help you get organized before, during and after your appointment.
Schedule Your Medical Appointments
- Help your doctor’s office schedule enough time for your appointment and accommodate any needs you might have.
- Tell the scheduler why you need to be seen.
- Explain which health concerns you’d like to discuss and how urgent you believe they are.
- Tell the scheduler whether you need refills for your prescription medications.
- Let the scheduler know if you have any special needs, such as a wheelchair, or if you might need sign language interpretation or a translator service.
Before Your Medical Appointments
- Write down your questions or concerns. In the days leading up to your appointment, make a list of the issues you want to discuss with the doctor. These can include:
- New symptoms you’ve noticed since your last appointment;
- New concerns you’re experiencing: changes in typical habits, such as eating or sleeping, new aches and pains or any changes or discolorations on your skin; and
- Any side effects from the medications you’re taking.
- Prepare your medical history. This will help coordinate your care if you’re seeing several doctors for different reasons and keep your primary doctor updated about all your health conditions.
- A complete list of all your doctors’ names, specialties, addresses and phone numbers;
- A record of your hospitalizations, including dates, locations and procedures that were done;
- All of your health diagnoses. This way, your cardiologist knows why you’re also seeing the endocrinologist;
- Any new or recent test results;
- A list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take. The list should include:
- The name of the doctor who prescribed each medication;
- Why you are taking the medication; and
- The dosage of the medication.
- Note: Over-the-counter medications, such as vitamins, pain relievers, aspirin, allergy medicine, and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, also should be listed.
- Your family health history, including your parents’, grandparents’ and siblings’ health issues; and
- Any records you keep at home, such as blood pressure or blood sugar readings.
What to Bring to Your Medical Appointments
- A friend or relative. This is important for older adults, especially those with hearing, vision and cognitive problems, to help keep track of what the doctor says and to ensure all your questions and concerns are answered. Your friend or relative also can help with reviewing your medications and make sure you understand any instructions.
- Note: If you are a care-giving friend or family member and want to help, ask the older adult first to find out if he or she needs or wants help. Discuss and agree in advance about your level of participation in the appointment. During the appointment, make sure the medical staff speak to the older adult patient and not to you.
- Your medical history. This will help with filling out new patient information forms and in discussing your past and current health conditions with all of your doctors.
- Your prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. Put all of your medication, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs and treatments, in a bag and carry them with you to the appointment. The doctor or nurse can look through them to make note of what you’re taking as well as the dosages.
- Your insurance card and government-issued identification. Your insurance card is necessary to bill your insurer for your appointment and any tests or services you receive. Your doctor’s offices may ask for identification to accompany your insurance card.
- A notebook and pen to take notes. As your doctor talks, write down any recommendations, instructions and referrals. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure you understand.
- Your honesty. Your doctor will want an accurate picture of your health situation in order to make the best assessment and treatment. Be honest about whether you are:
- Taking your medication as prescribed;
- Following through with your doctor’s previous recommendations;
- Smoking, drinking alcohol or using other substances;
- Exercising and eating properly;
- Having concerns about your sexual health; and
- Experiencing pain. Describe the intensity and severity of the pain accurately.
- Your phone. The phone can be a diversion if you must wait longer than expected during your appointment. If you keep your calendar on your phone, it will be easier to schedule follow-up appointments. You’ll also be able to contact your transportation provider or family and friends if needed. Just be sure to put the phone away when you’re with the doctor.
- Snacks and water. This suggestion goes along with the phone. If you’re kept waiting, you may need a snack to tide you over until you can eat your next meal. Water will help ensure you stay hydrated. However, if you’re having a fasting blood test or your doctor has said you should not eat or drink before the appointment, be sure to follow those instructions.
After Your Medical Appointments
- Schedule any follow-up appointments. If your doctor wants to see you again, set follow-up appointments before you leave the office so you don’t forget about them later.
- Schedule appointments with referrals. If your doctor has referred you to other health care providers, set up those appointments right away. This will help ensure you can be seen as quickly as possible and stay on track with your doctor’s recommendations.
- Take care of your prescriptions. Ask the nurse to send prescriptions to your pharmacy or take prescription slips with you. If you take prescription slips, get them filled right away so you can take the medication as soon as possible.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions for medications. Your doctor has prescribed medication based on your unique health needs. Be sure to take the medication as directed. If you are unable to do that because of medication cost, side effects or any other reason, call your doctor’s office to discuss the situation. Your doctor or nurse can help.
- Follow up on test results. If your doctor took blood or did another type of test, follow up if you haven’t received test results in a timely manner. This will help ensure that you can start any treatment as soon as possible.
This checklist should help you stay on track to get the most out of your time with your doctor and ensure you’re prepared to follow through on recommendations and instructions. Do you have ideas on how to be organized for medical appointments? Tell us in the comments!