As family medicine physicians, we know going to the doctor can be nerve-wracking. Some may even find it intimidating or confusing — but it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little preparation and open communication, you can leave the visit feeling confident about your health and future.
Next time you see your doctor, keep these tips in mind to help you make the most of your visit.
Being prepared and organized for your visit to the doctor is imperative. Bring a paper and pencil and jot down the items you would like addressed during your visit. The doctor may not be able to get to all of them in one visit, but at least prioritize your top three concerns.
Know your medical history. Providing accurate information regarding your personal medical history is a necessity to accurately diagnose and appropriately treat any condition.
If your symptoms are complex or involve multiple areas of the body, make a list in chronological order detailing when they occurred. Keeping a diary of symptoms is always helpful. Try to describe the symptom. For example, if you feel pain, describe whether it is burning, achy, stabbing or dull pain. Did something trigger your symptoms? How often and how long do they occur? What seems to make the symptoms better or worse?
Yes, it is okay to do your own research to better understand your symptoms, but remember, you should only trust the advice of a trained medical professional.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Don’t be afraid to get involved in the decision-making process with your doctor. Let your doctor know how involved you want to be — do you want to know about every lab test and imaging study available, or do you want just general information regarding a certain condition?
All questions are good questions!
Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a diagnosis, treatment plan, lab result, etc. Ask about treatment goals, side effects of medications and why a certain lab test or imaging study is being ordered.
We never want a patient to leave our office and not know what the next steps are in their plan of care. If you don’t understand the medical jargon for a certain condition, ask if the doctor can explain it in simpler terms. If you still have questions at the end of your visit, ask if there are other personnel in the office that can address your concerns. An additional appointment may be necessary.
Maximize your time
Your doctor likely has limited time in his or her schedule to spend with you. It’s important that you come prepared to make the most of your visit!
Know what type of appointment you are being seen for: Is this a well-check, preventive visit or an acute sick visit? Do you want to discuss a diagnosis and/or treatment plan? Or are you looking for reassurance or help with depression, anxiety or fatigue?
Whatever the reason for your visit, think ahead. Come prepared with a list to help you remember what questions you want to ask the doctor. These questions may differ based on whether you’re looking for a diagnosis or treatment, or are there only for a well-check, so it’s important to think through your questions beforehand.
Write down what you learned from your visit, or bring a caregiver or advocate to help you during your visit.
Write down what you learned from your visit, or bring a caregiver or advocate to help you during your visit. Lastly, know what the next steps are in your plan of care so you and your doctor are on the same page when you leave the office.
Don’t be embarrassed
It is important to discuss sensitive topics with your doctor, even if you’re embarrassed or uncomfortable bringing them up during your visit. Some of these topics include: memory problems, depression, anxiety, alcohol or drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, sexuality, sexual function and fears of falling or having had multiple falls.
Do not assume something is “normal.” If you’re concerned, speak up! Just remember:
- Your doctor has seen it before.
- Your doctor is there to help you, not judge you.
Let your doctor know this is a difficult topic for you to discuss. Your doctor is most concerned with keeping you healthy, but it’s on you to bring up your health worries so he or she knows how to best help you. Not telling your doctor about a sensitive topic may actually lead to more serious health concerns down the road. For example, not receiving treatment for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can lead to infertility.
Be honest in everything you tell your doctor. It’s their job to keep you healthy, but it’s your job to talk openly about your symptoms and worries. Together, the two of you can team up to keep you healthy!