An Ounce of Prevention MD – How to Get the Most Out of Your Doctor’s Visit

How to Get the Most Out of Your Doctor’s Visit

At least once a day, I have a patient who comes to me and says,”I can’t remember what else I was going to ask you.”  No, it’s not dementia setting in. There can be a lot to cover in a short time with your doctor. And even if your doctor offers extended visit times, depending on the problem, you still might leave feeling unsatisfied.  As physicians, we’re trained to get as much relevant information from our patients as possible, but every interaction is different. I always review my patient’s chart before a visit, so I am prepared when I walk in the room.  If you come to your appointment prepared as well, that helps us, which ultimately helps you leave the office with a warm, fuzzy feeling having addressed all your issues thoroughly.

You wouldn’t take a school exam unprepared, so why not prepare for your medical exam?  After all, if you ask me, your health is your most important asset. So a little preparation before your appointment can help ensure you leave your doctor’s office feeling satisfied and informed.  

The first step is to create a list of all the items you want to address.   A lot of people think doctors get annoyed with patients who bring lists, but I love them!  A list means the patient is prepared and takes their health seriously. It also means I’m more likely to address all of their questions, which avoids a phone call later in the week.  A good pneumonic to follow is P-Q-R-S-T:

  • Pain (“Where does it hurt?”)
  • Quality (“What does it feel like?  Dull? Sharp? Stabbing?”)
  • Radiation (“Does it move anywhere?”)
  • Scale (“How bad is it? How much does it affect you?”)
  • Timing (“When did it start?  Does it come and go? What makes it better or worse?”)

Be sure to bring a list of all your medications, including as needed, over-the-counter, and alternative medications, as these can all be important to your care.  Even better, pack a bag with all your pill bottles and bring them in, so we can see exactly what you are taking, and discard any expired or discontinued prescriptions.  

Think about where your problem is, and dress appropriately so we can get easy access to that body part.  If you have knee pain, wearing tight jeans is probably not the best idea.  If you’re having abdominal pain, you should leave your favorite onesie at home.  And if you think you’re going to remove any clothing during your visit, I recommend clean underwear, please!

Try to be on time!  I know the old joke about doctors always running late, but often that’s because one patient was late, which sets our entire day’s schedule back!  If you are late, there’s a fair chance you might not have a complete appointment.

Educate yourself on your condition.  Patients always tell me,”I know doctors hate Google.”  But that’s not true. Doctors hate misinformation.  You should be selective about where you get your data, because there’s a lot of terrible information on the internet, especially about health.  Here’s a couple of good, reliable resources for you to research your symptoms:

Try to be concise.  We understand you want to give us a complete picture of your issue, and we genuinely want to hear what you have to say. However, try to avoid too much information.  The fact that your 73 year old aunt who is a professional chef was visiting from Albany when you had your accident probably isn’t that relevant. Think about how you might explain your problem in just a few sentences. The quicker you can provide pertinent information during your visit, the more time that will be available to discuss your concerns and consider other issues you may have.

Bring any labs or test results done previously, so your doctor can review these at the visit.  In an ideal world, every test, lab, and consult note would make its way to me, but items often get lost in a digital quagmire.  If there were any relevant tests done prior to your appointment, bring the results in so we can have a more complete picture of what’s going on. 

Bring a friend or family member to your appointment.  I love it when a spouse comes to the office visit, because I know I’m more likely to hear the whole story, and the partner is likely to help remember what was discussed.  

And, at the end of your visit, be sure to verbally summarize your conversation so you and your doctor can be sure you understand everything that was discussed.  I try to give everyone a (legible) handwritten sheet of paper that highlights the important points of our visit.  Some patients have told me they kept these for years because they were good reminders for them.  

Finally, be sure to bring your ID and insurance card to your appointment.  

Clearly these aren’t mandatory actions- a good physician should be able to meet most of your needs under any situation.  But following a few of these tips keep you more involved in your care, can make life easier for you and your doctor, and likely will make you more satisfied with your visit, and lead to better health!

Good luck and good health!

Ken Zweig, M.D.

Northern Virginia Family Practice Associates