10 Tips for Getting the Most out of Your Doctor Visit
Allison A. Lewinski, PhD, MPH, RN, Postdoctoral Fellow, Durham Center of Innovation to Accelerate Discovery and Practice Transformation, Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Lenna Dawkins-Moultin, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Health Equities, Department of Population Sciences, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center
A doctor’s appointment, even one with your primary care physician, can be an overwhelming experience. The average length of a doctor visit is about 15 minutes, which means there is limited time for you to interact with your doctor. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of your doctor’s visit.
Preparing for a doctor’s visit.
- Make a list of questions and concerns you have about your health. Each time you think of a question or concern, write it down – whether weeks before your visit, or on the way there. This list of questions and concerns can help you remember what you want to talk to about. You can write down questions about symptoms, how your body is responding to your medications, or other options for treatment. You can also write down if there are any new aches or pains that you are concerned about.
- Make notes about your symptoms. Write down when you do not feel good, such as being dizzy, tired, stressed, or anything else. This will help you and your doctor establish patterns. In addition, it will ensure you do not forget to mention symptoms that may seem trivial but are important for your diagnosis and care. If you have a chronic illness, a description of your symptoms can help your provider see how you are managing your illness and if the doctor should change your medications or dosages. Write down:
- What was the time of day and the date that something happened?
- How long did your symptom last?
- What happened during your symptom?
- What were you doing when this happened?
- Make a list of your current medications. Bring a list of all your current prescription drugs, herbs, vitamins, and supplements to your appointment. Include how often you take these medications: such as once a day, twice a day, every other day, etc. Also include the dosage: half a pill, one pill, two pills, or more. If you are not sure of this information, bring the bottles and the medications to your appointment with you. The doctor can go over each medication with you to ensure that the medications are ok for you. Also, be sure to tell your doctor about any medications that you do not take any more either because the medications have been discontinued or you decided to stop taking them on your own.
- Make a list of changes that occurred since your last visit with this doctor. This information can help the doctor ensure that you are getting the medical care that you need. This information can be:
- Have you been to the hospital or seen other doctors since you last saw this doctor?
- Have there been any changes in your finances, family, or living situation?
- Are you having any challenges managing your health?
- Think about what you want to get out of the visit. Are you looking for your doctor’s help in addressing a symptom that’s bothering you? Change your medications? Have you noticed a change in how you feel that is affecting your daily activities? Thinking about what your goal for the visit is will help you make sure that concerns and questions are addressed.
During your visit.
- Bring a support person. Talking with the doctor can be overwhelming – especially if the visit is to discuss unexpected test results or decide on treatment options – and a family member or friend can remind you to ask questions, or voice concerns, or just be there to support you. This person can also take notes about what the doctor says and can talk to you about the information after the visit ends.
- Talk to your doctor about changes in your medical or life status. Be honest and open with your doctor about instances you find challenging, where you are struggling, and what is working well for you. This information will help them provide you with the best care for you.
- Ask questions and take notes during your conversation. Bring a piece of paper and write down what your doctor is telling you. You can also ask for information to be printed off or written down. Ask your doctor what information you should look for on the Internet or who you should contact if you want more information.
- At the end of the visit, look over your notes and summarize what needs to happen next. This is a great way to make sure that you and your doctor are on the same page on what will happen after the visit. For example, will any of your medications change? If so, how will they change? Are you going to try to make changes in your life? When should you schedule a follow-up visit?
After your visit.
- Review your notes and make a plan. When you get home, review your notes from your doctor’s visit. If you brought a family member or friend, you can also talk with them about how the doctor’s visit went and what was discussed. Then, make a plan for making any changes you and your doctor decided on.
Remember, your doctor is there to help you live your best life. These 10 tips can help you make sure that you get the most out of your doctor’s visit and that your concerns are addressed.
The 10 Questions You Should Know. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/patient-involvement/ask-your-doctor/10questions.html. Last reviewed September 2012.
Take notes during your visit worksheet. Available at www.idph.state.il.us/idhp/Dr_Notes_Worksheet.pdf
Funding information: Support for Dr. Lewinski was provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Academic Affiliations (TPH 21-000), and publication support was provided by the Durham VA Health Services Research Center of Innovation funding (CIN 13-410). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or the U.S. government.