10 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Doctor's Appointment

Most young adults avoid going to the doctor's office. We feel that we simply don't have enough time. Or we assume our ailments will subside on their own. Google and WebMD are reasonable alternatives, right? And preventative visits are a whole other level of Not.Going.To.Happen.

But at some point it may become time to suck it up, take off a morning from work, and pay the $30 or $60 or sometimes even higher co-pay to seek professional help. Given the time you have to sacrifice, and the money you may need to spend, you will want to make the most of your doctor’s visit. Here are a fey key tips on how to maximize your visit.

1. Be as specific as possible as to why you are making the appointment. I know this can be embarrassing- a secretary picks up the phone, not a nurse, doctor or PA- and he or she is asking you what exactly you want this appointment for. You may want to say it’s a personal issue and leave it at that. I mean, who feels comfortable letting a complete stranger on the phone know that you have had diarrhea for the last week, or you have some discharge down there after having unprotected sex? But just remember that the more specific you are, the more efficient your visit will be. More time may be allotted if you list 4 problems you want to discuss vs. if you simple say “back pain” but you are also planning to discuss depression and inability to sleep at night.

2. If you just want a general check up and blood work, schedule your appointment as your annual physical.  If you have health insurance, this will typically save you a co-pay. That’s right, the visit should be free. This only applies if you have not had a physical within the last year. Not sure? Ask! If you are an established patient, they will have the date of your last physical, and they will let you know if its too soon. If you are a new patient, you can always call your insurance company to find out. If you have new insurance, you can typically go whenever because your “physical” basically resets. Its best to schedule your appointment as an annual physical if you do not have too much that you want to discuss, because the provider will generally do most of the talking- reminding your to get your pap smear, mammogram, immunizations, etc. But you will be able to do all the routine blood work, which is very important for your general health.

3. Gather information on how you are feeling. Your provider will want to know some specifics. He or she may as you questions, such as:

a.   When did the pain begin?

b.   What does the pain feel like?

c.    How long does the pain last?

d.   Does anything make it better? Does anything make it worse?

e.   On a scale of 1-10 how bad is the pain?

Thinking of these answers in advance can give you more time to discuss the issue at hand and it will lead to a more accurate diagnosis.

4. Find out what services are offered before you schedule the appointment. If you think you broke a bone and you are hoping for an x-ray on site, first make sure the office offers x-rays on site. Otherwise you will have to go to another facility for the imaging. If you are hoping to get a pap smear during your annual physical, make sure to specify that because not all general doctors offices offer pap smears. Same goes with blood work. It’s a huge convenience to go to your appointment in the morning, while fasting, and to be able to get the blood work drawn then and there. However if you don’t know that this is a service offered, you may show up an hour after eating at the Waffle House and then you will have to schedule blood work for another time.

5. Get to know the secretaries, nurses, medical assistants and providers and be nice! I know we don’t all frequent the doctors office, but if you just so happen to, this can be beneficial. If you develop those relationships they will be more likely to try to work you in for urgent visits for minor problems, which can save you from a higher co-pay at an urgent care center or an emergency room.

6. Get to the office early. This one is a no brainer, and we always TRY to, right? But life happens and you never know when there will be traffic, or when you will have to circle the parking lot a few times to find a parking spot. In the meantime, your appointment was for 2:30, and its 2:45 and you’re doing paperwork. Now the provider you were going to see is with the 2:45 patient, and then the 3:00 patient who was waiting since 2:30. If you come in earlier than your appointment time, you will most likely be seen on time or possibly even earlier.

7. If you have a list, whip it out in the beginning. Don’t wait until your provider asks you “do you have any questions?” at the very end of the visit to pull out the list. Again, then you will feel rushed. And your provider does not want you to be dissatisfied with your visit just as much as you don’t want to. By bringing out the list early, you can have a timely, open conversation to get down to the root of your problems.

8. Try to determine what you want out of the appointment. Are you hoping for a medication prescription? An x-ray? A referral to see a specialist? Try to decide what you are really hoping for so that you can speak up about it before the visit ends.

9. If this is a follow-up appointment on labs or imaging, call in advance to make sure the office have received the results. Your appointment may be to discuss the MRI of your shoulder. If you did this test two days ago, the report may not be ready and sent to the office just yet, and then the whole visit may be a waste of time.

10. Remember that its always a shared decision-making process. If you are not happy with the plan, speak up. Explain why you don’t feel comfortable with it. Your provider will more than likely be glad to come up with an alternative plan with your input, or at least give you additional information that will make you feel more comfortable with the current. 

Yes, its hard to pick up the phone and make that appointment, I'm right there with you. Being prepared can make it worth it and save some frustration. Any other suggestions? Comment below!