Making the Most of Your Doctor’s Appointment

Before you head out to your next doctor's appointment, read these tips from Nurse Mary

Making the Most of Your Doctor’s Appointment

Mary P. McDonnell, RN

Thinking About Going to See a Doctor?

Going to a doctor’s appointment can be very intimidating and sometimes a bit scary, especially if you’re seeing a new doctor. As a registered nurse in the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Institute, I have seen individuals both male and female who are afraid to visit a doctor, delay making an appointment because of fear, forget what they want to ask once they are in the exam room and leave the visit with more questions than they came with.

Below are tips to help you make the most of your doctor’s appointment starting with scheduling the appointment to what you should do when you get home from an appointment.

Making the Appointment

Be clear with the scheduling person on why you need to see the doctor. Below are four tips on what you should say to the scheduling person:

  • Mention if you are a new patient, so they can get all of your information.
  • Tell the scheduler if you need a physical exam.
  • Mention if you have a sore back, sore throat, etc.
  • Describe all of your symptoms, so a specific amount of time can be set aside for you.

Does your doctor’s age match yours? Long-term medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or cancer require lifelong care. Select a doctor who will be there for you over an extended period of time.

Before the Appointment

Below are seven things to know before you head to your doctor’s appointment:

  1. The office location
  2. What the expected arrival time is - some offices want you to arrive early to fill out forms especially if you are a new patient
  3. Where to park
  4. What to bring with you: Insurance card and/or Medicare / Medicaid card and your Driver’s license
  5. Consider taking a friend or relative with you, if you are nervous
  6. If you need a translator do not rely on a child to translate. Check with the office to see if a translator is available
  7. Dress appropriately - loose, layered clothing that is easy to remove as offices are often cold

The Visit Day Has Arrived

What you can do to make sure your visit is smooth and comfortable:

  • Schedule the first appointment of the day to minimize waiting time
  • Arrive early to complete any required forms
  • Make your wait pleasant by reading a favorite book or magazine or doing some home or office paperwork
  • Turn off your mobile phone when you enter the exam room

Be Prepared: Your History Matters

Compiling Your Medical History

Make written lists of the medications you are taking, including:

  • The name of the medication
  • Dose
  • Number of doses per day
  • Reason

(For example: Atenolol 50 mg one tablet daily for high blood pressure)

Always include any over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal products that you are taking.

Sharing Your Surgical History

Your physician’s office will want to know if you have had surgery in the past. If you have, share what type and when. For example: Gallbladder-1975 or Total Hysterectomy-1989.

Make sure to also include medical history such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, cancer treatment, etc. Some of the information that doctors need is the same, but other information may differ depending on the type of doctor you are seeing.

A few examples of specialty doctors include:

  • Orthopedic surgeon – joint health, joint replacement surgery, bones
  • Gynecologist - reproductive heath
  • Cardiologist - heart
  • Oncologist – cancer

The Visit Begins

Doctors usually have an average of 15 minutes per patient visit, so the better prepared you are with information helps the doctor use the time with you to diagnose and discuss any questions or concerns you have.

Communication is Key to Success

Be honest while talking to your doctor. Don’t hold back any information even if you might consider it embarrassing. The more information you share, the better the doctor will be able to figure out what’s wrong and how to treat you. Lack of communication is a primary reason for patient dissatisfaction.

Do you feel your doctor was thorough? Make sure your doctor gives careful attention to detail without rushing through an evaluation.

Talking to the Doctor

To help put you at ease the doctor may ask how your job is going or how your family is doing or what you have been up to lately. Try to stay focused on why you came for the visit. For example:

  • Do Say This: I just came back from a Florida vacation
  • Don’t Say This: Spend precious time giving details of how you went on vacation and your mother-in-law ruined it

Is your doctor caring & compassionate? Health questions can be confusing and frightening. Does your doctor respond with patience and kindness? Your doctor should talk to you, not at you.

How to Describe Symptoms to Your Doctor

If you are suffering from back pain, below are some questions your doctor may ask you during your appointment and suggestions how to describe your symptoms:

  1. Q: Where does it hurt?
    A: Left neck
  2. Q: What does it feel like?
    A: Dull ache
  3. Q: When did it start?
    A: When I bent down to pick up a box a couple of days ago
  4. Q: What makes it worse or better?
    A: Turning my head.

After Talking to the Doctor, What’s Next?

  • The doctor may wish to perform a physical exam
  • The doctor’s exam is guided by the information you and he/she discussed during the history taking
  • The doctor may decide you need additional tests and/or a referral to a specialist

If Medication is Prescribed

If medication is recommended, make sure you ask the following questions:

  • What side effects should I expect?
  • How long do I take the medication?
  • How do I take the medication?

At Home After a Doctor's Appointment

When you arrive home from your appointment, follow these three steps to assure you understand and follow your doctor’s instructions:

  1. Review the materials you received from your doctor or nurse. If you don’t understand something when you get home, call the office and ask questions
  2. Call the doctor’s office if you are not feeling better
  3. Follow your doctor’s instructions:
    - Take the full course of medication
    - Go for additional testing if ordered
    - Keep your follow-up appointments

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