To Your Health, May 2012 “Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor’s Visit”

JKenealy's picture

In our last segment we discussed how to choose a doctor who is the right fit for you. Now that you’ve found that special physician, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your visit.

It’s no secret that physicians are under demanding time pressures. In response, many practices have adopted strict time allotments patient visits. To get the most out of your visit, it is important to be prepared and informed.

First, don’t let insurance and business details get in the way. If you are a new patient or have had a change in insurance plans or address since, come in about 15 minutes early to fill out the necessary paperwork. Trust me, your physician finds these forms as burdensome as you, but we are required to collect this information for insurance and billing purposes, and to comply with ever-expanding state and federal regulations.

Know your insurance plan details – referral requirements, co-pays and deductibles. With the increasing popularity of high deductible/high copay plans, this is particularly important. Many patients are surprised, and dismayed, to learn that their doctor’s office has no way of determining their remaining deductible at the time of the visit. We only learn of your patient responsibility after the claim is processed by your insurer. If you have a copay, be prepared to pay it at the time of your visit. Providers, by contract, are not permitted to routinely waive copays. Most physicians’ offices accept major credit cards for your convenience.

Remember, what you get out of your doctor’s visit depends on the preparation you put into it. Providing your new physician with a list of your drug allergies, medications, past medical problems and prior surgical procedures is very helpful. This allows your doctor to concentrate on your current issues and not spend valuable time gathering background information. When seeing a specialist for the first time, bring along a copy of your relevant medical records, including pertinent X-ray and laboratory test results. If you have had a CT or MRI, you can get a copy of the test on a CD-ROM from the imaging facility for the doctor to review.

Don’t assume that your PCP or referring physician has sent this information in advance. Believe it or not, a few times a month I have patients show up in my office with no idea of why they need to be seen. Also, electronic medical records have not yet evolved enough to allow different systems to talk to each other, so-called intra-operability. It’s always a good idea to bring a print copy of your records to a new specialist visit.
Set an agenda for yourself and what you want to accomplish. If you have several problems, prioritize your list by what is most important to you. Don’t attempt to get everything addressed “while you are there,” within the limited time frame of one visit. Your doctor may get overwhelmed and distracted trying to deal with a long list of problems, unable to spend the necessary time on any one particular issue. Discuss with him or her which items are most pressing and which can be left to another visit.

Don’t be embarrassed to bring along notes or questions. Many patients get flustered while speaking to a physician and may omit important details of their history or not have their concerns addressed.

Avoid the temptation to self-diagnose, especially in this Internet era. Medical diagnosis is a challenging intellectual pursuit. Providing your physician with an easy self- made diagnosis can bias that process and important details may be overlooked, leading to misdiagnosis and an incorrect treatment plan. Concentrate instead on relating your symptoms – the nature and location of your pain, what makes it better, what makes it worse? An accurate and thorough medical history is the key to successful diagnosis. But, if you have a specific concern such as cancer, brain tumor or HIV/AIDS, do share that with your doctor so she can address your concerns.

It may be helpful to bring along a close family member or trusted friend with whom you feel comfortable sharing your personal medical information. Four ears are better than two. Studies have shown that this is particularly true for men – their health outcomes are significantly better when a spouse or significant other attends their visits. Be sure to include your designated health information contacts on the HIPPA privacy form, otherwise the doctor will not be able to discuss your care with loved ones and family.

As you conclude your visit, spend a few minutes with your doctor to review the topics you have covered. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions. Make sure that you understand your diagnosis and treatment plan. Review medication instructions, along with possible side effects to look for. Follow up with recommended testing and future visits. Many offices can now provide you with a “visit summary” print out.

After the visit, take a few moments to debrief yourself - recall the conversation, review the important points, and write down questions for future visits. This is where that extra set of ears really comes in handy.

You and your doctor are partners in your health. Become an active and involved member of that partnership.

Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor’s Visit
Helpful Websites:

American Medical Association’s Health Literacy Information

Massachusetts Medical Society’s Health Information File

Partnership for Healthcare Excellence

Prepare for Your Visit to the Doctor: A Checklist