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Make the most of your doctor visit

A visit with your health care provider is a good time to share health concerns and ask questions. Preparing ahead for your appointment can help you get the most from your time together.

When you see your provider, be honest about your symptoms and lifestyle habits. Ask questions to make sure you understand. Taking an active role in your health can help you get the best care possible.

How to Prepare

Before your visit, jot down your questions and concerns. You may want to ask things like:

  • Am I due for any screening tests?
  • Should I keep taking this medicine?
  • What could be causing my symptoms?
  • Do I have other treatment options?
  • Should I worry about my family medical history?

Also be sure to write down all medicines, vitamins, and supplements you take. Include over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements as well. Bring this list with you to your appointment.

If you are having symptoms, write down details before the visit.

  • Describe your symptoms
  • Describe when and where they appear
  • Explain how long you have had symptoms and if they have changed

Put the notes in your purse or wallet so that you do not forget to bring them. You can also put the notes in your phone or in an email to your provider. Writing things down makes it easier to remember details at the time of your visit.

If you need support, invite a friend or family member to come with you. They can help you understand and remember what you need to do.

Make sure to have your insurance card with you at the time of your visit. Tell the office if your insurance has changed.

What to Share and Ask

What you do and how you feel can affect your health. Here are some things you want to share.

Life changes. These may include:

  • Job changes
  • Family changes, such as death, divorce, or adoption
  • Threat or acts of violence
  • Planned trips outside of the country (in case you need shots)
  • New activities or sports

Medical history. Go over any past or current health conditions or surgeries. Tell your provider about any family history of disease.

Allergies. Tell your provider about any past or current allergies or any new allergy symptoms.

Medicines and supplements. Share your list at your appointment. Tell your provider if you are having any side effects from your medicines. Ask about special instructions for the medicines you take:

  • Are there possible interactions or side effects?
  • What is each medicine supposed to do?

Lifestyle habits. Be honest about your habits, your provider will not judge you. Alcohol and drugs can interfere with medicines or cause certain symptoms. Tobacco use puts you at risk for a number of health problems. Your provider needs to know about all of your habits in order to best treat you.

Symptoms. Share your notes about your symptoms. Ask your provider:

  • Which tests might help to find the problem?
  • What are the benefits and risks of tests and treatment options?
  • When should you call your provider if your symptoms do not improve?

Prevention. Ask if there are screening tests or vaccines you should have. Are there any lifestyle changes you should make? What can you expect for results?

Follow-up. Ask your provider when you should schedule more appointments.

After Your Visit

Your provider may want you to:

  • See a specialist
  • Have a test
  • Take a new medicine
  • Schedule more visits

For the best results, follow your provider's instructions. Take medicines as directed, and go to any follow-up appointments.

Write down any new questions about your health, medicines, or treatment. Continue to keep a record of any symptoms and all of your medicines.

When to Call the Doctor

You should call your provider when:

  • You have side effects from medicines or treatments
  • You have new, unexplained symptoms
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • You are given new prescriptions from another provider
  • You want the results of a test
  • You have questions or concerns

References

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Before Your Appointment: Questions Are the Answer. Updated September 2012. www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/patient-involvement/ask-your-doctor/questions-before-appointment.html. Accessed October 14, 2016.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. See a Doctor Before You Travel. Updated January 13, 2011. wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/see-doctor. Accessed October 14, 2016.

National Institute of Health. Talking to Your Doctor. Updated July 29, 2016. www.nih.gov/institutes-nih/nih-office-director/office-communications-public-liaison/clear-communication/talking-your-doctor. Accessed October 14, 2016.

Review Date 7/22/2016

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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