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No one likes to wait at the doctor’s office, but it’s possible that we may share part of the blame. When patients don’t prepare for their doctor visits, it creates more work for the doctor and office staff.
As a result, the doctor gets behind – and the patient loses out. I worked in a doctor’s office for nearly a decade, so I saw this happen constantly. Patients expect their doctor to do all the work, but if you don’t care enough about yourself to invest in your own health, why should your doctor?
To find out the best ways patients can get the most in terms of quality and quantity of medical care, I talked to two experts. Marcia Peyton has been the office manager of a South Florida cardiology practice for 10 years and has worked in medical practices for 15 years. Frank Lavernia, M.D., is a internist who specializes in diabetes care and works in Broward Health, one of the 10 largest public hospital systems in the U.S.
These are their suggestions for a more productive doctor visit…
1. Know your objective
This may sound obvious, but go to the doctor for a reason. Lavernia says he sees too many men, for example, who show up to his office only because their wives told them to. These patients get little out of their visit.
“So you need to go there with a purpose,” he says. “Have a set of complaints that you’re going to present to the doctor with follow-up questions.”
If you already know what’s wrong or if you suspect a particular cause, try looking into it yourself before you head to the doctor’s office. As we explained earlier this month, websites like WebMD offer a variety of free health assessments. If you take one before going to a doctor appointment, print the results and bring them with. The information can help you doctor better narrow down what’s wrong and more quickly determine how to treat it, which could end up saving you time and money while improving the quality of care you receive.
2. Bring backup
As the office manager of a cardiology practice, Peyton sees a lot of elderly patients, many of whom suffer from memory problems or are otherwise incapable of taking care of their health on their own. So she always encourages them to bring a loved one to for “extra ears.”
Lavernia agrees – “two brains are better than one brain” – and added that he makes the same suggestion for patients who get nervous at doctor appointments.
The best way to get nothing out of your doctor visit is to go alone when you may not be able to remember all of the doctor’s instructions.
If the person you bring with you is your spouse, however, be sure to they behave during the visit. Both Lavernia and Peyton reported that married couples often waste so much time bickering during appointments that the doctor has to separate them in order to get any medical care done.
3. Double-check your coverage
If you’re going to a new doctor for the first time or if your insurance company or plan type has changed since you last saw your usual doctor, make sure that the doctor is on your plan before you show up. This saves a lot of time and hassle for you and office staff.
Peyton, who doubles as a medical biller, points out that printed insurance directories are only updated once a year and that even insurance websites are not always up to date. The best way to make sure that your doctor is still on your plan, she says, is to first call the insurance company. If they say yes, then call the doctor’s office to double-check.
She also stresses the importance of always having your insurance card on your when you go to the doctor. In fact, you should carry it with you at all times in case of an emergency.
4. Take your meds
“The most important thing is knowing your own medicines,” Peyton says. “A lot of errors are caused by medicine and drug-drug interaction.”
For seniors, the risk of such errors is even greater, she added, because many of them take multiple medications and/or get their medications prescribed by multiple doctors, a situation known as polypharmacy.
To help your doctor prevent medication-induced complications or drug-drug interactions, Peyton urges patients to create a comprehensive list of all their medications, regardless of who prescribed them.
Be sure to also include any over-the-counter pills that you take, like vitamins and other supplements. A pill doesn’t have to be a prescription to cause problems for you and your doctor. (Did you know that the popular supplement gingko biloba interacts with various prescription medications? Or that vitamin K – an ingredient in the Centrum Silver multivitamin – can negate the effects of blood thinners?) So, it’s just as important that your doctor know your over-the-counter pills as your prescription pills.
Be sure to also include the dosing information for each medication (i.e., what size pill you take, how often you take it, whether you take it with food, etc), Lavernia says.
And if you are unable to create your own master list, Peyton suggests just throwing all of your medication and supplement bottles into a bag and bringing it to your doctor.
5. Bring your documents
If you’re going to a doctor for the first time, Peyton says be sure to obtain your records from your old doctor first. Due to national health care privacy laws, the new doctor can’t do this for you without your signature because the old doctor can’t release your records without your written permission. You have to first sign a release form and allow the old doctor time to photocopy all of your records, so be sure to plan ahead.
Showing up for a new-patient visit without your medical records is like tying the doctor’s hands behind his back. You’ll have a more productive visit and get in and out faster when the doctor has records to work with.
“It helps the doctor put the pieces of the puzzle together quicker,” Peyton explains. “If you’re 80 years old, you’ve got 80 years of medical history.”
If you’re an established patient but have seen any specialists who performed any diagnostic tests (bloodwork, EKGs, imaging, etc.) since you last saw your main doctor, be sure to obtain the results first and bring them with to your main doctor.
“A lot of insurances won’t pay for duplicate tests,” Peyton warns. “So if you come in and the doctor says, ‘Well, here’s what I’d order on you,’ but he has no idea that Dr. John Doe ordered it three months ago … you could get stuck with the charge.”
6. Know your history
Knowing your own medical history is also critical. Take the time to type up a comprehensive document that lists all your allergies, surgeries, other hospitalizations, and medical conditions. If possible, also include all the medical conditions and cancers that your blood relatives have or had, whether they’re living or deceased, and their current age or their age at the time of their death.
Update it every time your health situation changes, and keep it with your list of medications and bring a copy of both to every doctor visit in case you’re asked an obscure question. (To download a blank template of my personal medical history log, click here – feel free to tweak it to suit your needs.)
“You’d be surprised how many people come in and they forget what kind of surgery [they had] till you say, ‘Well, what’s that?’ ‘Oh, wait, I forgot. My gall bladder was taken out,’” Lavernia reports.
“And what does the doctor think of those people? Not much,” he adds. “Just like you’re sizing me up, I am sizing you up.”