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Doctor’s Office Visits: How to Get the Most Out of Your Appointment

Doctor’s Office Visits: How to Get the Most Out of Your Appointment

Take an active role in your health

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Whether you’re going to see a doctor for an annual checkup, an illness or an injury, you deserve to get the most out of your visit. Your doctor can diagnose you, prescribe medicine, recommend specialists and teach you how to stay healthy to prevent future problems. However, if you don’t know these tips, you might not be getting the full benefit of your visit.

Know what is a medical emergency

Know what is a medical emergency

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Before scheduling a doctor’s appointment at an office or urgent care clinic, make sure that your symptoms or injuries aren’t serious enough to constitute a visit to the emergency room or to make a 911 call. Your health is a priority, so it’s important to trust your intuition if you’re concerned. The National 911 Program recommends calling for emergency assistance if you or a loved one has difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion or inability to arouse; or bluish lips or face.

Bring paperwork

Bring paperwork

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If you’re visiting a new doctor for the first time, there’s some paperwork that you should have handy. These include your driver’s license or another valid photo ID and any insurance or prescription cards.

Bring medications

Bring medications

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If you can’t remember the name of the medication you’re on, you should make a list to bring with you. You can also just bring the physical bottles into your appointment.

Have copies of your medical records

Have copies of your medical records

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It’s important to provide your doctor with as much information about your medical history as possible. Bring copies of your latest vaccinations, test results and any other medical records from your previous doctor or primary care physician. If you don’t have these, ask your previous doctor to provide them to you or send them along to your new doctor.

Be on time

Be on time

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It always seems like doctors’ offices are running behind schedule. That is partly due to appointments and emergencies being unpredictable, but if one patient is late, it creates a domino effect that pushes the doctor’s schedule back for the rest of the day. Be respectful of others and be on time — and don’t forget to bring reading materials or to download episodes of your favorite feel-good show to keep you occupied in the waiting room.

Know your family medical history

Know your family medical history

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Be prepared to answer questions about family history. Reach out to family members before your appointment if there are details you are lacking. If there are things that are too technical or you think you may forget, write them down.

Mention any vitamins or supplements you take

Mention any vitamins or supplements you take

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On top of listing all the prescription medications you take, you should also note any vitamins, supplements or herbal remedies you’re currently taking. These could interact with certain medications and alter the way they work in the body, causing negative side effects or making the medications more or less effective.

Note any allergies or sensitivities

Note any allergies or sensitivities

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It’s important to disclose any and all allergies and sensitivities, not just to medication, but also to foods or body care products. These allergies could affect your treatments. For example, some vaccines can trigger reactions in people who are allergic to eggs.

Bring any visual or audio aids you need

Bring any visual or audio aids you need

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Many people over 40 have problems with their vision as well as hearing properly. If you have a hard time seeing or hearing, make sure to let your doctor know and to bring and use any glasses, contacts or hearing aids you need to your appointment.

Request an interpreter

Request an interpreter

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If your doctor doesn’t speak your language or they speak a language you’re less comfortable with, ask the doctor’s office to provide an interpreter. Even though you might know basic medical terms in another language, you may feel more comfortable speaking in your first language, especially when it comes to discussing complex or sensitive subjects.

Be honest

Be honest

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You shouldn’t keep secrets from your doctor, especially if you’re coming in for a specific treatment or ailment rather than just a checkup. Even though a symptom or behavior might be embarrassing, it’s important to share because it might have an effect on your treatment or diagnosis. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are trained to be nonjudgmental and respectful, and information you share with your doctor is legally protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.  If you are uncomfortable with your doctor's bedside manner, you should seek a different provider with whom you can be honest.

Share any and all symptoms

Share any and all symptoms

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You might be seeing your doctor for a specific ailment, injury or concern. However, it’s up to your doctor to diagnose you and deduce if certain symptoms are related. Tell your doctor about all your symptoms, such as pain, fever, a lump or bump, unexplained weight loss or gain, problems sleeping, or changes in your appetite or energy level.

Write things down

Write things down

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Nobody has a perfect memory, especially when it comes to medical terminology and prescription names. Write down your doctor’s instructions and advice as well as the names of any particular medications or specialists you might need to see. If you’re unfamiliar with a name or term, ask for the correct spelling.

Ask questions

Ask questions

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Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t know what something means, if you want to know all the possible risks and side effects of a medication or if you want to understand how a certain treatment or process works, ask your doctor. People can easily get stressed or flustered during an appointment, so consider writing down certain questions ahead of time so you can remember to ask them.

Ask about your options

Ask about your options

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Many times, there are multiple options for treating medical conditions. Your doctor has some reasoning behind why they selected the treatment plan they did — but there might be treatment options that work better for you or fit more easily within your life and budget. Ask about the length and cost of treatment as well as the risks, benefits, side effects and how it might affect your job and lifestyle.

Bring a family member or friend

Bring a family member or friend

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If you’re nervous about your appointment, don’t feel comfortable speaking up or want someone to help you remember what your doctor says during the appointment, bring a family member or friend along. They can provide moral support and might pose important questions that you never thought to ask.

Consider a virtual appointment

Consider a virtual appointment

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The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of life, including how we go grocery shopping, how kids attend school and how doctors’ offices handle appointments. Consider making a virtual appointment with your doctor to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 by having your appointment over video call from the comfort of your own home.

Virtual appointments: Take vitals

Virtual appointments: Take vitals

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If you do schedule a virtual appointment, there are additional things patients should know before their video call. Since you’re not seeing your doctor in-person, consider taking your own vital signs before the visit, if you have the necessary tools to do so. These include your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate counted over one minute, your oxygen level, blood sugar and body weight.

Virtual appointments: Have good lighting

Virtual appointments: Have good lighting

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Make sure you have your virtual appointment in a well-lit area and have a small lamp, flashlight or a phone light nearby to help your doctor examine parts of your body like your throat or eyes. If you have a particular area of concern like a rash or wound, consider taking a picture and sending it to your doctor or nurse. They may be able to see details better in a photo versus over video.

Schedule your next appointment

Schedule your next appointment

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The best time to schedule your next appointment is while you’re at the doctor’s office. Come prepared knowing what dates you’re free and what time frame works best so you will be easily able to set it up with the receptionist on your way out. Having regular appointments and check-ups with doctors is a healthy habit of people who never get sick.

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