7 tips to help you get the most from your next visit to your doctor.
7 tips to help you get the most from your next visit to your doctor.

7 Tips to Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Appointment

We’ve all done it before – you tell yourself you’ll ask about that mole on your left shoulder at your next doctor’s appointment, then then you realize you forgot as you are driving out of the parking lot. Or your doctor goes over your list of medications on her computer and asks if you’re taking 5 or 10 mg of your blood pressure medicine. Hmmm . . . which one is it?
“It’s hard to remember the names of all your medications, vitamins and over-the-counter drugs, much less the dosage,” said Dr. Amy Phillips, one of our OB/GYN doctors at UAMS. “It’s best to make a list or take pictures of all your prescriptions on your phone and bring them to your visit. This information is really important for your doctor. Even a small change in the dosage of some drugs can affect how others work and could possibly explain some of the symptoms you are discussing with your doctor. The less guessing your doctor has to do, the better your care will be.”

Take Names

Write down all your medications and dosage and take note if you need a refill or would like to change to a more convenient 90-day prescription. Be sure to include vitamins, over-the-counter medicines and things you take as needed such a medicine for allergies, migraines or heartburn. Know the dosage of these medicines too. If you’re often taking large doses of an over-the-counter drug, it may be time to get a stronger prescription medicine. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are generic or more affordable alternatives to the drugs you’re currently taking.
Also bring a list of other doctors and specialists you see and any procedures you’ve had since your last visit.

Start at the Top

Think back over the past month or so and take notes of any health issues – allergies worse than usual, different aches and pains, dizziness, forgetfulness, upset stomach, etc. Start at your head and work down to your toes, taking note of any changes in how you feel. Be specific in what you say to your doctor. “I’ve had three headaches that were so bad I had to leave work in the past two months” means a lot more than “I’ve had a couple of headaches.”
Review the list and put the most important two or three at the top. Try to talk to your doctor about these, but don’t expect to have time to discuss every little bump and bruise since your last visit. Your notes and complete list may be helpful in discussing your priority items. A sore back at the top of your list with occasional tingling in your toes might mean more to your doctor than just a sore back.

Plan Ahead

You don’t have a chance to talk with your doctor every day, so fast forward a few weeks or months and anticipate what your health care needs might be. If you anticipate major lifestyle changes, ask if those will affect your medications or if there’s anything you need to watch out for. Planning to get pregnant? Ask about your medications and prenatal vitamins. Allergies worse in the spring? Get armed with drugs and symptom-preventing tips to avoid a repeat visit. Surgery or dental work coming up? Give your doctor a heads up so you can do any advance work that might help your recovery. Tell your doctor about an upcoming travel plans too.

Speak Up

Don’t worry about what your doctor or nurse will think of you when you mention “unmentionable” issues related to bodily functions. They’ve heard it all, they’re trained professionals, and they’re there to help you, not judge. And, don’t feel bad if you don’t know the correct medical term for every single body part. Slang words work just fine. There’s usually a spot on the registration form to write down things you’re concerned about. You may find it easier to write it down and then let your doctor bring the subject up. If she uses words you don’t understand, don’t pretend you know what she’s saying – ask her to explain.

Be Open

You know your body better than anyone, but unless you have medical training, it’s probably best to leave the diagnosis and treatment to your doctor and other trained professionals. Just because you read on the Internet that headaches could be a sign of a brain tumor doesn’t mean you need an expensive MRI. Don’t be disappointed if your doctor doesn’t order a battery of tests to check out all your complaints. If a problem continues or gets worse, bring it up again, but know that your doctor can diagnose you better than you and your computer can. There are lots of websites with unproven medical advice. When you consult the web, be sure to use a reliable site such as the UAMS Health Library.

Log On

Just like almost everything else, health care has gone digital. Your entire health history and lab results are probably available through your doctor’s website. Make sure you know how to sign into your account and use all the tools available. Some offices let you pay bills and schedule appointments through the website, and you may be able to send secure messages to your doctor. If this feature is available, check with your doctor to see how often she checks her messages and if she would like to communicate with you through the website. UAMS MyChart has all these features – and an app version so you can take care of your health, anytime, anywhere.

Follow Up

Ask your doctor what you should do if you have questions before your next scheduled appointment. Is there a nurse line for established patients? Does she prefer e-mail? Is there messaging through a patient portal or website? Ask how you’ll receive test results – phone call, letter or website. And, if your doctor wants you to see a specialist, ask if they will schedule the appointment for you. You can usually get an appointment faster if it’s at a doctor’s request than if you call on your own.

Know When to Go

Besides your routine check-ups, it’s sometimes hard to know what you can take care of yourself with rest and over-the-counter medications and what needs a doctor’s attention. Use this guide to review several common symptoms you and your family may have.
To learn more, please visit the UAMS Health Library.

Subscribe to our email list.