Navigating the System

Preparing for a Visit to the Doctor

June 25, 2007

The biggest complaint I hear from patients is that doctors don’t spend enough time with them. And they’re right! We should be spending more time than the average 12-15 minute visit. But there are some ways that you can make the visit more effective, even with this brief time. Take a page out of the Boy Scout manual: Be Prepared.

These suggestions apply to your regular physician or your specialist.  Don’t assume that your doctor will remember everything.  And unfortunately, charts sometimes get lost. (I’ll save stories on that for later, explaining why we need electronic records!)

Try to give a good description of your symptoms, especially the timing and location. Think about what makes it better, and what makes it worse. Don’t make us work too hard to get a good history! It’s a good idea to write these down because patients often get nervous in the office or they feel rushed, and forget what they wanted to say.

Make sure the doctor either knows or remembers all your current diseases and conditions.  This is especially important if you are seeing a doctor for the first time.

Bring a list of all your medications: the name, the dose, and how often you take it.  Be more specific than “the purple pill” or the “little pink one,” as there are numerous purple pills and little pink ones too!  Medication error is one of the most frequent patient safety mistakes. Write them down on a card and keep it in your wallet or purse.  Be sure to also include supplements and herbal medicines, as these can often affect how prescription drugs work in your body.

Keep a current list of all the doctors you see.  If we know who else you are seeing, we can get copies of records and avoid repeating tests.

I often remind patients the important role of family history and genetics.  Especially as you get older, it’s important to tell the doctor what diseases run in your family; it may be an important clue to your symptoms.  Again, write it down, so you don’t have to try to remember your family history during each visit.

We’ll try to make office visits longer; no matter what, though, being prepared for a visit to the doctor is going to result in better care.  So take a few minutes and follow the suggestions: it will be well worth your time.

Related Links:

About Dr. John Whyte

What Kind of Healthcare Professionals Do I Need?

How Can I Make It Easier to Stick with My Treatment?

John J. Whyte, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Expert & Vice President for Continuing Medical Education where he develops, designs and delivers health programming.








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