How to Make the Most out of Your Doctor Visit

Medical visits are often rushed and inefficient. To make the most of your medical visits, I have 25 recommendations for you. As a medical provider, these are things that I wish everyone knew. In fact, they are what I tell most of my patients.

There are a number of things you can do to make the most of your clinic visit.

1. Please bring in your bag of medicines on most visits or an updated list, especially if you see more than one doctor. Drug reactions and interactions are very common. This includes over the counter and herbal remedies too.

2. Please get to your visit on time, but bring a good book or magazine. We do our best to be on time but with one 30 minute emergency, we are late for the whole day!

3. Please fill out any forms in entirety. Do not make your provider write your name, address, birth day, social security number, etc. It will take longer for them to do it and to make time for it. It will look less overwhelming if most of it is filled out and we will feel like we can do it quicker and easier.

4. Please schedule appointment instead of walking in for routine visits. You need to be specific with reason for appointment. If it is something that embarrasses you then make some thing up. When the doc comes in the room and says “So you are coughing”, just fess up and say “I am really here for something else”. Believe me, we understand. If you have a one hour agenda but a 15 minute visit, then your visit will not be to your pleasing. Or worse, if your provider rushes and tries to accommodate you with multiple issues, they may make a mistake and at the least may delay later visits that day for others. If you have chest pain, do not finish a full visit for something else and then at end of visit say “What about my chest pain?” We can not ignore that complaint and for all involved, we should deal with it earlier as the prioritized problem. Another tip with appointments is to make an appointment as the first patient of morning or afternoon, then you will not have to wait much.

5. Please bring a copy of your medical records from your old clinic and hospitals. Do not send records before you have a chart at your new clinic. They will not know what to do with it and you will have to do it again. Otherwise, make sure you sign for medical records from your old facility to be sent to your new one.

6. A recommendation is always the best way to find a new doctor. You can also check any state’s medical boards’ web site to look up any quality issues related to them.

7. In order to save money on chronic medications, consider buying medications in bulk (usually 3 months worth) from legitimate web sites.

8. Do not mix medications in bottles. There are daily medication boxes you can get from most stores with a nominal fee. Many hospital visits are due to side effects of medications, and you do not need to add to that statistic.

9. If you can memorize the name of your medications and be familiar with them, that would be ideal. You should be familiar with the dosing and side effects too. Doctors and pharmacists make mistakes. If you get a prescription that you think is wrong, do not take it until you tell your pharmacist and doctor. Healthcare is a team effort and patients need to be responsible for them selves too and to be aware of what they are putting in their mouths. Did I mention we make mistakes? Most humans are not perfect.

10. I am sorry to say this but, do not only rely on your doctor or clinic to call you back or to schedule things. Patients need to be proactive and call back and to follow up if needed. In an ideal world your provider and their staff would not let anything fall through the cracks, but when they are overwhelmed with their daily activities, non-emergencies sometimes get delayed. Delayed activities can get forgotten and then everyone suffers. Given the daily chaos of most busy clinics, please be open minded that you may need to follow up yourself and if need be make an appointment to make sure communication is good. And by all means, do not take it personal if your clinic forgets to call you. If your provider regularly forgets to call you for things you have arranged with them, then the obvious thing is to get a new provider.

11. Make sure you get your lab results and x-ray report results. It is rare but sometimes a result does not get printed out in clinic or mailed and no one will know the result. I am sure some papers get misfiled or lost too. No news is no news, not necessarily good news. The system has too many flaws for anyone to take it for granted or to rely on it absolutely.

12. You should look up drug reactions of the medication you are taking. Please make special note of similar side effects. If you are taking 3 medications that commonly cause nausea, then guess who will be at significant risk of being nauseated?

13. Be friendly to the staff of the clinic. It is only natural for us to treat you like a VIP if you are in the “very nice patient” category. If your clinic staff are not nice, then go to another clinic.

14. Please do not settle for less care. If you feel terrible and you know something is wrong, you need to keep following up and insist on referrals to specialists if needed. You know yourself best and you need to be your own advocate. If you are a caregiver then be an advocate for your patient or client too.

15. If you urgently walk into clinic for a new “bad cough”, do not bring up the rash on your ankle that is small and that you had for the last 10 years. However, if you think it is related then please do so. If your clinic is nice enough to accept walk-ins and let urgent visits interrupt the regular full schedule, do not prolong the visit and delay care for others. Everyone wants to be seen in a timely fashion. In the same way we need to be respectful of your and other patients’ time, you need to be respectful and practical about our and other patients’ time.

16. When you get to your clinic visit, ask if things are on schedule. Nine times out of ten it will not be, but if they are 1 hour late then consider just rescheduling and get refill from the nurse. Once we get a 30-60 minute emergency, we are likewise late for the rest of the day. If your provider is “not great” and is always extremely late, then change providers. If they are worth the wait then they must be very good.

17. If you are on medications, you should check basic laboratories on initiation of medication and periodically over time. For example, cholesterol medications can damage your liver and muscles, and you want to stop them before you get yellow and throw up or have muscle aches that you can not explain. It depends on the chronic medication, but some medications need laboratories every two months to one year, and as needed for new problems that might be related.

18. Do not just keep getting refills via fax from your pharmacy for many months. Remember we have our hands tied. If we refill your blood pressure medicine you will not have a stroke. So why would we not do it? When you ask for your refill the following month the same rule applies. We expect people to be coming in soon if they run out of refills since we only gave them refills for 3 months or however it was prescribed. That means we need to see you in 3 months. Taking blood pressure or diabetes medications daily while still having elevated blood pressure and sugars does not accomplish much. Remember that some people do not feel ill when their blood pressure is high or when their sugar is too high. That is why we need to check with testing. High blood pressure is not called the “silent killer” for nothing.

19. Make sure you know your family history. If your father had a heart attack at 42 years old, then guess what we think will happen when you are around 42 years old? That is right, and we need to do investigations and whatever is needed to avoid the same fate. I tell patients that genetics are passed down to children, and so are lifestyles (good and bad). It is not only nature or nurture that is passed on, but both!

20. Smoking is a strong risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and cancers. And this smoking list of problems also includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. You can enroll in a smoking cessation class which has the best outcomes. If you continue to smoke, you will become a regular patient sooner or later. Believe me, you do not want to do that. The same thing applies to all substance abuse, whether it be alcohol, methamphetamines or some thing else. Prevention is always the best policy. And do not forget that smoking, alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamines can contribute to high blood pressure and increased risk of strokes and heart attacks. I have seen a 32 year old with a stroke on cocaine, and a heart attack with a 35 year old on cocaine.

21. Remember to update your medication list at all your visits and make sure all doctors who take care of you know what the other is prescribing. Do not forget over the counter medications and herbs! Also, if you are suddenly drinking 6 cups of coffee, and have a new visit for palpitations or stomach problems or sleeping problems, tell your doc. Coincidences are the exception in medicine.

22. You need to know who is taking care of you. We come in many varieties. Some of us are doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. We all have similar training and nurse practitioners and physician assistants are usually working in unison with a physician overseeing them. The physician has more formal training, but I know some nurse practitioners and physician assistants that are better than some doctors I know.

23. If you are coughing, make sure you are coughing in tissue paper and washing your hands a lot. The waiting room is a concentrated area of illness and infections sometimes. I usually cringe when I go to a doctors visit with my kid and see play things that 30 other sick kids just touched that morning. I often see patients with weak immune systems and specifically help arrange to keep them out of the clinic during flu season if possible. I will do things over the phone if appropriate. Their regular check up will be right before the flu season, and then right after the flu season is gone.

24. If you are following up for an x-ray or lab result, make sure the staff have the result in the chart before the doctor or nurse practitioner or physicians assistant sees you. This should be done anyway of course, but since we are human, you know what happens sometimes.

25. Unfortunately, modern medicine is a lot of pills,prescriptions, and “band aids”. Prevention is the best medicine. You need to take advantage of other options like a nutritionist, counselor, exercise coach, physical therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc. For example, for someone who is over age 50 and a diabetic with high cholesterol, it would benefit them to see specialists in the fields of nutrition, exercise, and maybe even counseling. A relaxed and well adjusted person often has better blood pressure, less emotional eating, more motivation for exercise and other changes or maintenance issues, and less daily adrenaline which influences your blood pressure and sugars as well. In other words, we all need to be holistic and include body (nutrition, exercise), mind (mental or psychological health), and dare I say spirituality and nature. In times of stress or to just maintain a good quality of life, I encourage patients to participate in their own personal spiritually oriented activities. Do not underestimate nature for relaxation purposes. I do not think anything beats a walk or run on the beach and park or a good hike or stroll. We should be prescribing nature walks with our blood pressure medications.

Please note that this article is provided for general educational purposes and does not officially recommend medical advice for any specific individual. If you have a concern or issue, then you need to talk to your provider.

So now you are better equipped to take better care of yourself and make the most of your medical visits and prescription medications. Aloha.

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