A Doctor’s Advice: Do Homework Before Your Next Doctor Visit

Everyday I meet patients who don’t know their medications or health history, which can definitely hurt them in receiving appropriate care. In establishing this column on AtlantaBlackStar.com, my goal is to provide the public with the “rules of the road” in an increasingly complicated medical system, providing instructive and timely evidence-based health information while dispelling myths. Our goal is to empower you, the patient.

So, you’ve just made an appointment with your doctor. What should you do to get the most out of your appointment? Here’s a guide that will help you prepare.

1. You should request all outside lab work, x-rays, and ER health records be sent to your physician at least a week before your visit. Here’s how to do that: a records release form is available online or by calling the medical records department of the hospital or office where you received care. Remember, our healthcare system remains fragmented, so it’s your responsibility to keep up-to-date on your own health information.

2. The night before, write out any questions to help focus the visit. Also, put all of your medications in a bag to bring to your appointment. Physicians get a lot of useful information simply by looking at the actual bottles. Tip: you can bring along the drug information sheet you receive from the pharmacy. If you have been asked not to eat the night before, that means nothing can be in your stomach—otherwise it can compromise the test results. Morning medications may be taken with a sip of water.

3. If you have trouble hearing or it’s a critical visit, take someone with you to act as a second set of ears. If you are diabetic, take your glucose meter with you. Also, it’s easiest if you wear short sleeves for taking blood pressure readings. Allot more time then you think you’ll need to get there and park—your stress level will be higher if you are running late, which will drive up your blood pressure. Arrive in the office at least 20 minutes before your scheduled appointment to fill out any forms and get registered. Take your insurance card and be prepared to pay the co-pay. Be patient: Healthcare delivery is not like McDonald’s! Your physician may be running late because (s)he is giving quality attention to someone just like you. So, bring a book or magazine.

4. Once your physician is in the examination room with you, ask questions—and remember the only “dumb” question is the unasked question. Discuss any difficulties you have with filling prescriptions if cost is an issue. Tip: there is a list of generic and high quality $4 medications that may be appropriate. If specific medications are prescribed, ask whether the drug company has a prescription drug plan aimed at helping defray the cost of medications.

5. Before you leave the doctor’s office, check if you have a follow-up appointment, new prescriptions, or refill prescriptions, and make sure you understand the treatment plan. Once home, follow the treatment plan and take your medications as prescribed.

Remember, you should like and trust your doctor. If you don’t, consider finding a new one by asking friends, relatives or co-workers for referrals.

As you’ve seen, going to the doctor requires preparation, organization, and patience to get the most from a visit. Physicians and patients truly are partners in healthcare. Be well.

Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and holistic medicine. Her goal is to use media to improve the nation’s public health. In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she speaks at many community forums and delivers health awareness presentations.

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