Making the Most of Your Appointment
Many people are more satisfied with their health care if they share the responsibility with their doctors. Your doctor is an expert on medical care, but you are the expert on yourself. Often there is more than one option for diagnosing or treating a condition. By being a partner with your doctor, you can help choose the option that best fits your values, beliefs, and lifestyle. You also will feel more confident about carrying out the chosen treatment.
Here are some tips for being a good partner with your doctor:
- Build a relationship with your doctor. Let your doctor know that you want to be a partner in your health care. Tell the doctor what your expectations are.
- Be an active participant in each appointment. Listen carefully to what your doctor says. If you do not understand a diagnosis or treatment, ask questions. And tell the doctor if you think that following the prescribed treatment will be hard for you.
- Have a family member or friend with you during your appointment, if possible. He or she can take notes, ask questions to clarify information, and help you remember what your doctor says.
- Ask for instructions. Before you leave the doctor's office, make sure you know what you are supposed to do to care for yourself. Ask for written information, links to videos and websites, and any other instructions.
- Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
- Prepare your child for tests and exams. Let your child know why he or she is seeing a doctor and what will be done during the visit. Your child's age and developmental level will determine how best to prepare him or her. And ask your older child if he or she would like to speak to the doctor alone. Teens may be more willing to talk about topics such as sexuality, mental health, and drugs or alcohol if they know they can have time on their own with their doctors.
What is the reason for your appointment?
During your appointment, you will need to answer some important questions so that you and your doctor can plan your care together. Completing the appropriate forms before the appointment helps you provide correct and complete information, take an active role in your health care decisions, and make the most of your limited appointment time.
Choose the form that best describes your reason for seeing the doctor.
Reason for appointment
Form to complete
A new problem or symptom
Follow-up to a previous problem
First appointment with this doctor
Appointment for an ongoing health problem
Appointment for a child who is healthy
Do you take medicines?
If you take prescription or over-the-counter medicines, including herbal remedies or vitamins, bring all your medicines with you to any appointment with a doctor. If you cannot bring the medicines, bring a list of the medicines that you take .
You might also bring a copy of your daily medicine schedule . Your doctor can review the best times of the day to take each medicine and prevent unwanted side effects or interactions between drugs, supplements, or over-the-counter medicine.
What other forms might be helpful?
If you and your doctor are going to discuss a new medicine, medical test, surgery, or special treatment, choose a form from the following list. Then fill in your information, and take the form with you to your visit. Completing the form will help you understand the importance of the treatment your doctor is advising for your health condition. If you do not have the form at the time of your visit, complete the form at home after the visit.
- New Medicines: Questions to Ask the Doctor
- Medical Tests: Questions to Ask the Doctor
- Surgery: Questions to Ask the Doctor
- Other Treatment: Questions to Ask the Doctor
Also, bring a copy of your health plan's list of covered prescription drugs. This list is also known as a formulary.
What do you need to do after the appointment?
Follow the instructions your doctor gave you, including filling a prescription, scheduling tests, or making another appointment. Call your doctor if you still have questions or if there is anything you do not understand.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems or symptoms that concern you. Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety.
Update the medical records that you keep at home, including new test results and medicine changes. For more information, see the topic Organizing Your Medical Records.
Other Works Consulted
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2011). 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors. Patient Fact Sheet (AHRQ Publication No. 11-0089). Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Also available online: http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/20tips.pdf.
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (accessed November 2012). Questions are the answer: Better communication. Better care. Available online: http://www.ahrq.gov/questions.
- Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Becoming a responsible health care consumer. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 453–484. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Rakel RE (2011). Establishing rapport. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 146–165. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Ritter RH, et al. (2011). Interviewing techniques. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 166–175. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Wallace M (2010). Older adult. In CL Edelman, CL Mandle, eds., Health Promotion Throughout the Life Span, 7th ed., pp. 619–647. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
Current as of: May 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Catherine D. Serio PhD - Behavioral Health
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine