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Regular visits to the doctor should be part of any comprehensive health plan, even if you’re young and healthy. Once you find the right doctor, it’s important to prepare for a visit in advance to make the process as simple, efficient, and productive as possible. Here's how to make it happen.
How to Rock a Doctor's Appointment
1. Work the schedule.
Scheduling the first appointment of the day or the first slot right after lunch yields the best chance of punctuality at the doctor’s office, since the doctor won’t have had a chance to get behind yet. Alternatively, scheduling the last appointment of the morning or in the afternoon allows the physician greater flexibility, since no other patients are waiting—if you have a lot of questions or know that your visit might be a long one, this time slot might be a good choice.
When scheduling an appointment, be specific (and honest) regarding what the visit is for. This ensures that enough time is scheduled for the appointment. It also helps the physician manage appointment time appropriately.
2. Come prepared.
It can be useful to consult “Dr. Google” before an appointment to better understand your symptoms and their possible causes, but don’t let Internet searches substitute for real medical advice. Before leaving for an appointment, write down all of your questions, symptoms, and concerns (even if you think you’ve already answered them online). This way, you will give your doctor the best opportunity to be of help (and you won’t spend the day after your appointment regretting that question that you forgot to ask).
Additionally, be sure to bring any medications and supplements that you take so that the doctor is fully aware of these treatments. Come with questions about medications and alternative treatment options.
It can also be useful to bring along a trusted friend or family member who can help you maintain focus on the issues you’d like to address and remember any instructions or feedback from your doctor.
Lastly, come prepared to ask for clarifications from your doctor. Doctors love "doctor talk" and sometimes forget to lay it to you straight. Most physicians will happily clarify, but you need to be willing to ask.
3. Don’t beat around the bush.
The most disheartening words a physician hears are "Oh, by the way…" right as they’re getting ready to walk out the door. Honesty is the best policy, and the more straightforward and up front a patient is about their symptoms and concerns, the more efficiently a physician can help. Doctors are trained to deal with virtually any type of ailment or question and are not there to judge, so don’t be shy. Burning with urination? Pain during intercourse? Let the doctor know at the start of the visit to ensure that symptoms are fully addressed. You’ll be doing both yourself and the doctor a favor.
4. Write it down.
Don’t just take notes before your visit—take them during the visit too. One study found that 40 to 80 percent of medical information provided by healthcare practitioners is forgotten immediately ((Patients’ memory for medical information. Kessels, RP. J R Soci Med, May 2003;96(5):219-222))! Furthermore, almost half of the information that is remembered was found to be incorrect ((Patients’ memory for medical information. Kessels, RP. J R Soci Med, May 2003;96(5):219-222)). Everything may seem to make sense when the physician is in the room, but it can be challenging later, for example, to remember if a medicine is taken once a day for two weeks or twice a day for one week. Writing down a doctor’s instructions and feedback clarifies everything both during and after the appointment—just be sure to confirm with the doctor that what you write down is accurate.
5. Follow up and follow through.
Depending on what the physician thinks is going on, he or she may suggest further testing such as blood work, imaging studies, or referrals to other providers. If this is the case, be sure to ask about the timeline for the follow-up tests and try to get an idea of when and how the results of the studies will get relayed. Sometimes a follow-up appointment is needed, but often lab results can be sent in the mail or through online health portals. While it is the physician’s job to follow up on test results and create a specific healthcare plan, staying on top of this information on your own is important for helping you to be knowledgeable and accountable to your own health.
By practicing these five tips before, during, and after a doctor’s appointment, you will help to ensure that things run smoothly and that you receive the best care possible. The doctor will see you now!