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How to prepare for your doctor’s visit

Whether you’re in good health or poor health, in a separate post I explained why it’s important to have a good primary care doctor. And, I’ve provided four questions to help you know whether your primary care doctor is meeting your needs. Here, I want to help you prepare for your doctor’s visit, so that you make the most of it.

  1. Confirm that your doctor accepts your insurance. If you have traditional Medicare, ask if the doctor accepts assignment, which means that the doctor accepts Medicare’s rate as payment in full. If you have a private insurer such as Aetna or Cigna, to save money, make sure the doctor is in-network. Always find out how much more you may have to pay out-of-pocket.
  2. Ask a family member or person you trust to join you. No matter what your age, it’s always good to have a health care buddy, a second pair of ears to listen to the doctor’s advice and, ideally, to take notes. You may also want your buddy to ask questions. The doctor’s visit can be stressful. You can decide to have your buddy be present for some or all of the visit – you are in charge!
  3. Make sure you bring a list of your medications with you, both prescription drugs and over the counter. And, ask your doctor whether you should be taking all these drugs.  It may be that you don’t need to be on a drug or that one drug you’re taking interacts poorly with another one. As you collect the bottles, think of any concerns, side effects or questions you have about your treatments.
  4. Make a list of all the questions you have for your doctor and other information you want to share, including any symptoms and concerns you have about your health.
  5. If it’s your first appointment, you want to be sure to let your doctor know about any chronic conditions and any other health problems you have, as well as diseases that run in your family. If possible bring past medical records, test results, and your immunization records. You can ask the last doctor you saw to provide this information to your doctor, or you can sign a release form to have your new doctor’s office request your prior records.  If you are already an established patient of the doctor, be ready to provide your doctor with any major family health updates—for example, if your brother has been recently diagnosed with high blood pressure, or a parent was diagnosed with cancer.
  6. Check with the office if you are expected to come on an empty stomach to your appointment. There are only a few tests that need to be done in the “fasting state” (meaning, no food or drinks other than water for 12 hours). If you are expected to be fasting, tell the office if you are taking medications that require food, or if you think this will be difficult for you for any reason. Remember that most routine tests are not affected by drinking water, but being dehydrated could lead to slightly abnormal results.
  7. If your doctor is suggesting a test or treatment, to avoid overtreatmentbe sure to understand why you need it. What are your options? How will it help? Are there side effects?
  8. Be sure that when you leave the office you understand your diagnosis and what you need to do, as well as when and how to contact the doctor and when to make another appointment. If you need a new prescription, make sure you know when to take it and what to do if you experience any side effects.

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