A Guide to Get the Most from Your Doctor Visits

Have you ever gone to the doctor and remembered something you wanted to ask about? But you remembered just after the doctor left the exam room. A bit of preparation can help you avoid this and make the best use of your time with your health care provider.

How to Prepare for Your First Visit

Each visit to your health care professional will be a bit different. Here are some guidelines you can follow for your first visit. If you’re taking a child or family member to see a health care professional, you should have the same information for that individual.

Bring to Your First Visit:

  • Copies of your medical records such as test results, lab reports and letters from providers you've seen before. (This will help you fill out your medical history.)
  • Information about your family’s medical history of serious illnesses and surgeries. Include information about your parents, grandparents on both sides and your siblings.
  • A list of medications you’re taking. Include prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal products and vitamins. If it’s easier for you, bring your medicine bottles. Bring the name and phone number of your pharmacy. That will help us quickly fill any prescriptions you may need.
  • Your insurance card or information, if you have insurance.
  • A written list of questions and topics you want to discuss.
  • A list of allergies you have — especially to medicines or foods.
  • Notes about recent major life events such as job changes, divorce or other significant changes. Let your provider know how the changes are affecting your physically and emotionally.
  • A notebook and pen, tablet or smartphone so you can take notes. 

During your visit, be prepared to discuss your diet and exercise habits, along with your sleep routine. This can give your provider helpful information about the things you already do to maintain your health. The provider may make recommendations on other things you can do for your health. 

On later visits to the same provider, your family history information will be on file. You will need to let the office know if there are changes in your health. You should also plan to update your family’s health history in case something changes. 

During Your Visit 

By taking the six steps below, you can help ensure an effective visit. One that makes the best use of your time with your provider. You should think about what you want from your provider during your visit.

  • If you’re visiting your provider because of a medical concern (rather than a preventive/wellness visit), explain what your problem is. Share the questions and topics you want to discuss. Bring up all the questions you have, even if they seem insignificant to you now. Often, catching a problem early makes treatment more effective.
  • If you don’t understand something, don’t hesitate to ask your provider to explain it in simpler terms. Helping you understand what’s happening with your body and health is an important part of our job.
  • If your provider does a test or requests lab work, ask what they’re for and when and how you’ll get the results.
  • Once the provider has made a diagnosis, make sure you understand what the diagnosis is and what it means to you.
  • If the provider prescribes medicine, ask what it will do and what side effects you might expect.
  • If you’d like more details about a topic relating to your health, ask your provider for a brochure. In some situations, there may be support groups, classes or websites that can help you.
  • If the provider recommends a treatment plan, ensure you’re clear on the plan. Ensure you know what you need to do for treatment to succeed.
  • Find out what follow up you may need and when. Make and keep your follow-up appointments.

After Your Visit 

The key to successful treatment is to follow your provider’s advice. If you have any questions or issues with your treatment, such as medication dosages or side effects, let your provider know.

If your treatment includes a visit to the hospital, we have tips for getting ready for that visit.

If you have a serious diagnosis or a major procedure is recommended, you may want to seek a second opinion. That is always your decision, and it’s a way you can be comfortable you know all your treatment options. 

Keep in mind that you’re at the center of your health care team. Your health care providers are valuable partners that can help you live well for a lifetime. If you don’t have a family doctor, we can help

Wondering Which Provider You Should Visit?

If you’re feeling ill and would like quick medical care, check the Aurora Health Care blog for guidance to help you decide which type of health care facility would be best for you to visit (a clinic, urgent care or emergency room). 

Meet the Author

Amy Eva Swift-Johnson, MD is a family medicine physician at Aurora Memorial Hospital of Burlington in Burlington, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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