Making the Most of Your Doctor Visit
Guidance on when to see your primary care doctor, see a specialist, or go to an ER or urgent care center.
In general, you should start with your primary care physician for all your health needs. Because this person will be your go-to medical partner, it’s important to find someone you’re comfortable with. When the same person sees you over time, he or she learns important information about you—the whole you—that can be invaluable in keeping you healthy and catching problems early. The more you feel you can trust and be open with your doctor, the better care that provider can give you. Finally, your primary care provider can recommend the right physician and coordinate care should you ever need specialized care (for example, for a heart or musculoskeletal problem).
If you are having an urgent (but non-emergency) healthcare problem—for example, flu symptoms or a sprained ankle—and your primary care doctor is not available, then it’s appropriate to visit an urgent care center. They have extended hours, and you don’t need an appointment. Online medical doctors, such as MDLIVE or Teladoc, can also provide fast and convenient help for non-emergency medical needs.
Go directly to the emergency room if you have chest pain, have trouble breathing, are bleeding, or have any other severe symptoms.
Regardless of which doctor you see, here are a few tips for getting the most from your appointment.
Be prepared. This is critical. Your doctor will try to address your primary complaint—the problem that brought you to the office. However, you likely have more than one issue you’d like to discuss.
Prioritize. Make a list of your questions or the things you wish to talk about, and then decide which ones are the most important. Start with those, and then work your way down the list.
Provide a complete picture. Make a list of all your medicines, supplements and vitamins, or—even better—bring the actual bottles with doses. Bring your medical records if you’re seeing a new doctor.
Don’t forget your insurance documents and contact information for other healthcare providers.
Complete forms ahead of time. Most doctors’ offices offer medical history, insurance and other forms online, or they mail them to you before your appointment. Don’t waste valuable time in the doctor’s office filling out these forms.
Speak up. Describe your symptoms and don’t hold back information because you feel embarrassed. The more information you provide, the better the doctor can care for you.
Ask questions. There’s no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to your health, so ask away. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer the first time, ask again until you do. Write down the doctor’s answers so you can remember them later.
Here are three specific questions to ask your doctor:
- What is my main problem?
- What do I need to do?
- Why is it important for me to do this?
Bring a friend or family member. Another set of ears can help you keep track of what your doctor said. This is especially important if you are discussing diagnosis or treatment for a serious medical condition.
BE PREPARED FOR YOUR DOCTOR APPOINTMENT.
Questions your doctor may ask you:
- What are your symptoms? Make a list before your appointment—don’t leave anything out.
- When did they start?
- How long do they last?
- What makes them better or worse?
- What medications, vitamins and supplements are you taking?
Remember: It’s YOUR health. Find a doctor who can be your partner in keeping you healthy, and then use his or her time wisely.