How to Get the Most Out of Your Office Visit

November 1, 2012

A Sense of Confusion and Frustration

Do you leave your doctor’s office feeling confused and frustrated? Maybe the following advice is for you!

These days with the many pressures that healthcare providers have from administrators, health insurances, pharmacies, electronic medical records, and other factors, patient’s office visits are getting squeezed out of quality time. The following are a few tips to help you get the most out of your office visit with your healthcare provider.

The most important point is to be organized. Bring all pertinent questions, medical records, and other necessary information such as prescriptions, insurance cards, specialists’ contact information, etc. This information is necessary for optimum care and is needed to have a complete medical record with your primary care provider (PCP).

Always bring your insurance card because sometimes there are errors in the system or it may need to be scanned to obtain the needed services and referrals. You should always carry your insurance card, especially when needed for emergency room visits. Your insurance card is also necessary to fill your prescriptions at the pharmacy. Having the correct information helps to minimize unnecessary delays, errors, and interruptions in healthcare services.

If needed, be sure to bring the necessary referral papers or medical records for your visit. An example would be seeing a specialist who wants to see your MRI films. Remember that not all medical offices are connected electronically to all other facilities so they might not have access to the necessary records at the time of your visit. You can facilitate this exchange of information by bring the films or CD files and reports with you to the visit.

Bring a list of all medications with dosages and times taken. Also include any vitamins or other over-the-counter supplements. Be sure to include items such as birth control, eye drops, creams, or other prescription medicines. Patients often forget to mention these items to their PCP but these medicines need to be included in your medical record. Your PCP should know everything that you are taking for your health so that he/she can make the best decisions when prescribing any new medicines.

Sometimes your PCP will ask you to bring in the actual bottles. This helps to verify dosage and type of medicine that you are taking. Remember to keep medicines in their original containers, except for the amount that goes in your pill box. This makes it easier for you and your PCP to be able to identify your medicines correctly. Many pills look very similar and serious medication errors can occur when pills are put in the wrong container!

Be sure to include on your medication list any allergies that you have to medications and other substances and the type of reaction that you have to the medicine such as hives, swelling, rash, breathing difficulty, etc. Your medical record at the PCP’s office should be as complete as possible so that you will get the best care possible.

Be sure that you are prepared physically for the visit. Get plenty of rest the night before. If you are to arrive fasting because you will need blood work or other labs, be sure to be mindful of this request. If you will be having a treadmill or another test that requires comfortable clothing and shoes, make sure that you are dressed accordingly. These requests are for your safety, comfort, and accuracy of testing. If you are not sure of the preparatory steps that you will need prior to your visit, please call and speak to the medical assistant at the office the day before the visit to get any instructions that you will need.

Come prepared to answer questions and also bring your list of questions to ask. Since time is very limited in a typical office visit, it is important that you answer questions succinctly without story-telling or other narratives, unless specifically asked to do so. Your PCP will let you know when they need more detail. One exception, for example, is for urgent symptoms such as chest pain, depression, and suicidal thoughts. These symptoms need to be addressed immediately despite the original reason for your visit. Example: You came for a pap smear but you have been having thoughts of hurting yourself because you are depressed. Your PCP needs to know this so that he/she can address your immediate need and reschedule the pap for a different visit. Your health, well-being, and safety are the prime concern for any visit that you schedule.

When you come prepared for your visit it will run more smoothly and will be more productive and satisfying. Your PCP will have more time to answer your questions and can determine the best way to address your concerns.

You are your own best advocate. If you do not feel that you received the answers to your questions or you have additional concerns, you should feel free to let your PCP know this so that he/she can address your needs at that visit or schedule further visits as needed. To minimize feeling frustrated with your visit, it is a good idea to let the receptionist or medical assistant know your concerns ahead of time so that they can schedule the best time slot for your visit. If you wait until you are in the exam room to discuss concerns that were not scheduled with the PCP then the visit will probably not progress as you had hoped because of the time constraints.

Be aware that some offices have physician extenders such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants or other support staff that can spend more time with you if you need it after your visit with the doctor. With electronic medical records now available in many offices, you can get a written summary of your visit at the end of the visit and Internet links to additional information. You can also sign up to have access to your records online and email access to submit questions that weren’t addressed at the visit due to time constraints.

Another source of information can be your health insurance carrier. Many health insurances provide brochures, pamphlets, and other sources of health information such as a call-in line where you can speak with a nurse. You can also get lots of information about your medications and drug interactions from your pharmacist. Take advantage of these additional services that are available to you!

Remember, you are your own best advocate!

To your health!

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