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How to Prepare for a Physician Visit

February 11, 2016

This post is written in conjunction with Carlos Rubiano, third-year medical student at Florida State University College.

Did you know that the average American visits a doctor four times a year? That may seem like a lot, but that number is far below other countries (In Japan, it’s 13 times a year).

Going to the doctor is an important part of maintaining your overall wellness. If you haven’t been to a physician in a while, here are a few tips to ensure your appointment goes smoothly.

Be Ready to Answer Specific Questions

The average doctor’s appointment is 15 minutes, and in that time your doctor needs to get relevant information to best manage your care. During visits, we typically ask patients whether their health issue is acute (lasting only a short time) or chronic (ongoing). We also like to get information about when the condition began, how frequent you experience symptoms and what actions, behaviors or other factors help to ease symptoms. You should be able to answer these questions so that we can appropriately diagnose you. Before your appointment, write down your symptoms and include key dates of when you began to experience changes in your health. Preparing this information beforehand will give your doctor the information her or she needs and ensure you get the most out of your appointment.

List Your Medications

In addition to preparing information for your doctor, also bring a list of your current medications to the appointment. It’s important to be open and honest about what you currently take, because certain medications can have negative drug interactions and severe side effects that may put your health at risk. If we have a list of your current medications, we can decide what medications to prescribe after we appropriate diagnose you and ensure that these drugs won’t cause unwanted side effects or adversely impact the effectiveness of your other medications.

Many people don’t think about vitamins and herbs as a type of medicine your doctor would need to know about, but is especially important that you mention herbal and supplemental medications that you may be taking. Most of these supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and many can contain unusual ingredients. A 2013 survey of popular medicinal herbs found that many were made up of a mixture of rice and weeds, and in some cases, contained none of the products listed on the labels. The inconsistencies can lead to severe reactions to your prescribed medications, so it is very important that you bring a list of these as well.

Bring Important Documentation

Also bring copies of your medical records with you to the appointment (or call your previous physician to have them transferred to your new doctor). These records should include prior lab results and reports and notes from any doctors you’ve previously visited. Also have your insurance information ready, so the front-office staff can make copies and keep this information on file.

Speak Up

If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to share them with your doctor. If your doctor says something that you find confusing or don’t understand, ask for clarification. If he or she orders a specific test, ask why and get information on what it will entail.

If you’ve received a diagnosis and are worried about your prescribed treatment plan, speak up and be honest about your concerns. Too often than we’d like, patients stop following their treatment plan or don’t take their medications as prescribed. If you’re honest about this, we can explore alternatives, such as drugs with fewer side effects or a treatment plan that is easier for you to follow.

Unfortunately, some people have anxiety about going to the doctor. It’s understandable, but this fear can cause you to be less prepared for your visit. However, we’re here to help you and ensure that you get the right diagnosis and the right treatment. If you haven’t visited a doctor in a long time, schedule an appointment for a check-up. If you are concerned about recent changes in your health, don’t hesitate to come in for an appointment. The sooner you see a doctor, the better it will be for your health.