Even though I haven't been practicing for long, I have seen a lot of patients in my clinic. Some of these patients are more prepared than others. Prepping for the doctor's visit can save you repeat visits, additional costs, and improve your health. Over the years, I have noticed a few traits from my more proactive patients that I would like to share with you.
1. Bring a book.
Unless, you are going to a minute clinic, your doctor visit will entail a wait. According to a report released last month by Vitals.com, most patients are waiting on average 19 minutes and 19 seconds to see their doctor. For a physician, it is hard to neatly address everyone's problems - sometimes ones that are unsolvable - within an 8 minute time-slot. Other reasons, like overbooking for unpredictable no-show rates, last-minute walk-ins, emergencies, late patients, and other delays can make the appointment time seem like more of an estimate rather than a guarantee.
Most doctors like to see their patients on time, as we know long waits can reduce your satisfaction with us. You can reduce your frustration by bringing a book or a tablet to keep yourself occupied. Office magazines tend to be outdated or vapid. Patients who do not expect to wait can easily become exasperated with even short wait times; long waits are thought of as heresy. When impatient patients are finally seen by the physician, they spend a portion - or even entirety - of their appointment time discussing the long wait, which only exacerbates the problem and distracts everyone from the real purpose of the doctor's visit.
2. Bring your records.
If you are seeing your established doctor for the 17th time, he or she will already have your records. In the age of electronic medical records, pulling up your information from the last visit has never been easier. However, not all electronic medical records are connected. Just because you went to any hospital doesn't mean your doctor automatically has access to your chart. The following are instances when you should be bringing records to your doctor:
• Before seeing a new doctor (like a specialist)
• After you have seen a new doctor and are returning to an old doctor, especially if they are not part of the same health system
• After receiving healthcare while traveling
The best patients are maintaining their own parallel record, most commonly in the form of an organized binder. Of course, the doctor's office staff can always ask for records to be faxed, but this is assuming that the sender is available, has the time to track down the item requested, and can send the information in a timely manner. This can add indefinitely delays to your doctor's visit or may necessitate a return visit. When in doubt, bring your own copy.
3. Bring your medications.
As healthcare becomes increasingly team centered with multiple players, it can be difficult for any physician to ascertain what medications other providers have prescribed (especially in the era of fractured medical records), let alone medications obtained over the counter. As patients see multiple doctors or experience repeated hospital visits, the list of medications can grow long and even become redundant. Even if you are keeping a list of medications, the list may differ from what you are actually taking. It has been estimated that 7,000 deaths occur each year due to preventable medication errors.
I have had patients bring two or three bottles of the same (or nearly the same) medication when they only needed one. There have been other times when patients have denied taking a medication, only to have discovered at the next visit that they had been taking the medication all along after bringing the bottle. Bringing all of your medications can provide a lot of valuable information to the physician. The best way to do this is put all of your medications - both prescription and over the counter - in a bag to bring to doctor's office.
4. Bring a friend or a family member.
Besides providing emotional support, a friend or family member can help you in several practical ways. They can help you get to the doctor's office, help with check-in, remember to ask certain questions when you see the physician, help you understand the doctor's plan, and also help you comply with treatment regimens after you leave. People often think that they should bring a family or friend only when they are having a major operation or discussing chemotherapy. However, bringing a companion can help with routine visits when physicians talk about chronic disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity. Over the long term, the management of these diseases can be as important as a major surgery or cancer treatment.
You wouldn't see your tax accountant without your pay stubs or W2, so why go ill-equipped to the doctor? Prepping for the doctor's visit can make the visit more valuable for you. We don't commonly think of preparing for a doctor's visit, but as with most things in life, we get out what we put in.