Healthcare Management|Working With Your Doctor|Your Health Resources
Doctor-Patient Relationships|Health Maintenance

Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor Appointment

Last Updated March 2023 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Kyle Bradford Jones, MD, FAAFP

Taking an active role in your health care can help you get the best care possible from your doctor. One way to do this is to make sure you get the most out of your office visit by preparing ahead of time and creating an agenda for your visit with your doctor. When you prepare for your appointment ahead of time, both you and your doctor will find the visit more helpful. Here are some tips you can follow for what to do before, during, and after your visit with your doctor. These tips can help you and your doctor work together to improve your health.

Path to improved health

Be prepared

Usually, you will only have about 15 minutes of time with your doctor. To make sure you and your doctor get the most out of your time, be sure to think about your visit ahead of time.  Think about your concerns and questions. Write these things down before your visit. Make a list and bring it to your visit. With a list, you won’t have to worry about remembering everything you need to tell your doctor. Here are a few things you might consider before your visit:

  • Think about concerns and questions you have for your family doctor. Write these down. Start first with what is most important to you and end with the least important. Bring the list to your visit. Be ready to work with your doctor to reorder your list, if needed.
  • If you are a new patient, bring as much information as possible with you to help your new doctor learn your health history. If you are not a new patient, you only need to bring information with you that is new or has changed since your last visit with your doctor.
  • Write down your health history. You can create a “health journal” for yourself on paper or on your computer. Your health journal can include things like health problems you have or have had, blood pressure numbers, recent symptoms, food eaten, or a sleep diary. Bring the journal or health history to your appointments.
  • Take any X-rays, test results, or medical records you have. Your doctor can look at these to learn more about your health history.
  • Make a list of all the medicines you take, including when and how often you take the medicine. Include the strength of the medicine (for example, do you take 150 mg or 200 mg?). The list should also include any vitamins or supplements you take.
  • Talk to your family members to see if they can come with you to your appointment to listen, take notes, and ask questions.
  • If you will need an interpreter for your appointment, call your doctor’s office to let them know ahead of time.

Be sure to take your lists with you to your visit. The Today’s Visit Form or Patient Pre-Visit Checklist can help you with preparing for your visit with your doctor.

Talk to your doctor

When you talk to your doctor, follow these steps to make sure you and your doctor get the most out of your time together.

Go over your lists

Even though it’s hard, talk about the issues that are embarrassing or scary at the beginning of your visit. This will give your doctor plenty of time to address them. Your doctor is not there to judge you but to help you. Be honest.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any current and past health care issues or concerns. It’s important to share any information you can, even if you’re embarrassed. Give your doctor the following information during the exam:

  • Your symptoms
  • Personal information, such as stress or changes in your life
  • Any medicines you are taking, including supplements
  • Any side effects you are experiencing from your medicine(s). Be sure to tell your doctor if your medicine makes you feel sick or if you think you may be allergic to it. Also let them know if you are having trouble paying for your medicine. Your family doctor may be able to help find different medicines for you to take or explain why the ones you are taking are the right choice.

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to speak up during your appointment. It’s important for you to let your doctor know if you don’t understand something. If you don’t ask questions, your doctor will think you understand everything. Here are some tips on asking your doctor questions:

  • Ask every time you don’t understand something.
  • If you can’t understand what your doctor is explaining, ask them to explain it in better detail, possibly using pictures or brochures.

Here are some good starter questions you can ask your doctor:

  • What do my symptoms mean?
  • Should I be tested for a disease or condition?
  • What caused this condition?
  • How serious is the condition?
  • How is it treated?
  • Are there any side effects to the treatment?
  • How long will treatment take?
  • How will this condition affect my life now and in the future?

If you run out of time, make a plan to get the rest of your questions answered.

  • Tell your doctor when you need more time to talk about something. If the doctor isn’t available to help, you should be able to talk to an assistant or a nurse. If no one else is available, see if you can schedule another appointment to ask the rest of your questions.

Take information home with you

Taking written or recorded information home with you can be helpful. It can help you remember information and instructions any time you need to. Your doctor is a good source of accurate information you can trust. The following are types of information you can take home with you:

  • Notes you have taken during the appointment. It’s ok for you to write down the information your doctor gives you. Sometimes it helps to bring a friend or family member with you. They can help write down the answers to your questions and other information shared by the doctor or nurse. You can also ask your doctor to write down notes for you.
  • Written instructions from your doctor. These should be provided to you at the end of your appointment.
  • A tape recording. Ask your doctor if it’s okay for you to record to the appointment to help you correctly remember everything.
  • Brochures or other educational materials. If there aren’t any available, ask where or how you can get some.

Things to consider

Make sure to follow any instructions you and your doctor discussed during the visit. This could include taking medicine, preparing for a test, or scheduling an appointment with a specialist. If you’re confused or if you’ve forgotten some information, it’s okay to contact your doctor. The following are some common reasons you may need to call your doctor or send an electronic message after your appointment:

  • If you have any questions after the appointment. Ask to leave a message with the doctor or speak with a nurse.
  • If you start to feel worse or have problems with your medicine
  • If you had tests and haven’t got the results
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