Getting the Most from Your Doctor Visit

Be prepared. According to Kevin Shaffer, MD, a family physician and member of the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, those two words of advice are the best way to ensure that the next doctor’s appointment is helpful and productive, no matter what ailments might be affecting you – from a simple cough to a mysterious pain in the stomach.

Dr. Shaffer explains that taking the time to prepare for a doctor’s visit can pay big dividends. Most of the patients who take time to plan their doctor’s visit generally feel more satisfied afterward and believe the time was well spent. The Pennsylvania Medical Society believes that a good doctor-patient relationship can be vital to your diagnosis and treatment.

“What you share with your doctor about your health directly impacts your diagnosis, and helps your doctor better understand the symptoms he might be able to observe during the visit,” says Dr. Shaffer. “Research has shown that more than 80 percent of patients’ diagnoses might be based on what they share with their doctors during their visits.” This is why for the Pennsylvania Medical Society advises you to prepare for a visit to the doctor by following these simple steps:

Be organized

Think about what you want to tell your doctor before the appointment. Bring a list of your concerns, symptoms, health changes, and dates when they began. Writing things down will prevent you from forgetting important information. If you’re seeing a physician for the first time, bring previous medical records or arrange to have them transferred. Bring an insurance card and understand your coverage.

Share details

Specific information is important, even if it seems unrelated to your symptoms. Details might be the key to your diagnosis, so if you’re wondering whether to share something, just go ahead and say it. Your doctor will decide whether the information is important.

Get the facts

Ask questions. After all, it’s your appointment. The Pennsylvania Medical Society suggests you ask your doctor to slow down if he or she is talking too fast, and to speak in terms that you understand. Consider taking notes so you can recall what was said later.

Understand your tests

If your doctor suggests a diagnostic test, be sure you understand what will occur. Know what the test involves, whether you will experience discomfort, how to prepare for it, and why the doctor is requesting it.

Understand your results

Ask how and when you’ll get results. By mail? By phone? By email? You should expect to be informed of the results of the test even if they show no abnormality. Ask when you can expect to get the results, and follow up with your doctor if you have not heard anything by that time. If the tests reveal a problem, ask how serious and what might have caused it. Ask for any printed information on your condition.

Understand your treatment

Make sure you know how to comply with the recommended treatment and how it will help your condition. Ask whether you have a choice of treatments. The Pennsylvania Medical Society advises you to understand recommended lifestyle changes, such as diet or exercise. If your doctor prescribes medications, learn what they are, how they’ll help, whether they have side effects, whether there are adverse reactions when used in combination with other drugs, and if you should take them at any particular time of day.

Ask about costs

You have the right to know approximately how much your treatment will cost and how much is covered by insurance. Ask your doctor for an estimate and check with your insurance company to determine coverage.

Know your options

If your doctor wants to refer you to a specialist or hospital, ask what your options are. Know which specialists and hospitals are covered by your insurance plan.

Consider your next steps

Ask your doctor when you should schedule a return visit. Also, be sure you know the office hours, how to reach your doctor after hours, and what to do in case of an emergency.

Member physicians of the Pennsylvania Medical Society believe the most productive doctor visits result from open and honest doctor-patient relationships. “As doctors, our goal is to help our patients understand what issues are affecting their health, and what can be done to cure and relieve their problems,” says Dr. Shaffer. “Patients can make this process easier and more effective if they prepare for their doctor visits, and do not hesitate to ask questions if what their doctors are telling them is not absolutely clear.”