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How to Prepare for a Specialist Visit

June 29, 2017

Typically, you’ll see a primary care doctor for most of your basic health care needs, like getting your annual exams and screenings.

But sometimes you may need to see another physician to get his or her expert opinion and expert care. In these cases, your primary care doctor will refer you to a specialist. According to one study that tracked trends in physician referrals from 1999 to 2009, the number of times a doctor’s visit led to a specialist referral increased 92 percent over a 10-year period, meaning more patients saw a specialist after seeing their primary care physician.

Specialists also are doctors, but they focus on very specific areas of medicine, such as a cardiology, oncology, neurosurgery, urology or psychiatry.

If you’ve received a referral from your primary care doctor to visit a specialist, here’s how you can prepare:

Get Your Records

Make sure your primary care doctor and any other doctors you visit send your medical records and any lab or test results to the specialist before your appointment.

Plan in advance, as this can take time. You’ll have to fill out a form to transfer your medical records, which you can send to your original doctor by fax (the fastest and most trackable option), by mail or in-person. Once your doctor receives your consent via this form, the office will send your records to the specialist, either via a secure fax or online system.

Bring Additional Information

Have the notes from your original visit with your primary care doctor and a detailed description of what originally concerned your physician so the new clinician knows why you are visiting.

Also bring your insurance information, a list of all the other doctors you see, all your medications, vitamins, and supplements and a list of prior hospitalizations and surgeries. This will help the specialist get more familiar with your medical history and give you an accurate diagnosis.

Come with Questions

Based on your primary care visit, you may have had some follow-up questions or concerns. Use your specialist visit as an opportunity to get answers to these questions.

Bring a list of all of your questions and relatively recent symptoms to let the clinician know why your physician may have referred you. During your appointment, your specialist likely will do a physical exam and may order some tests or blood work. If you have any questions or concerns about any of your specialist’s follow-up care or recommendations or anything he or she has said during the appointment, now is the time to speak up.

Keep an Open Dialogue

Be open and honest with your specialist. It only hurts the specialist's ability to care for you if you hide anything. Traditionally uncomfortable topics such as sexuality, mental health and family status are important for your care team to know. Be sure to answer their questions as fully as possible.

Our goal as doctors is to help you stay healthy, but we only can do this with our patients’ help. Being as prepared as possible for your appointment is the best way to help us diagnose the problem and offer effective solutions. I’d also encourage patients to be their own advocates, ask questions of their doctor (s) until they truly feel comfortable and follow up after their appointment if there’s something you still don’t understand. Whether you see a primary care doctor or get a referral to see a specialist, our intention is to all work together to give you the best care possible.

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