Make every minute with doctor count

Tips to get the maximum out of visits with physicians

By Barbara Pierce


If we’re lucky, we get about 15 minutes of face time with our health care provider. It’s easy to feel rushed or overwhelmed and forget to bring up something important, or walk out not sure of the information and instructions we’ve been given.

Brenda Carney, nurse practitioner and CEO of Central New York Family Nurse Practitioners, New Hartford, offers these suggestions to lessen your stress and to make sure that you’re provided with all the information you need at the appointment.

When you’re meeting with a new doctor, do arrive early on your first visit, Carney recommends. Expect that there will be paperwork for you to fill out. You will be asked for your insurance card and your photo identification.

You’ve made sure that the provider accepts your insurance by calling them or going online to their website prior to scheduling a visit. Then, when you call to make your appointment, verify with the staff that they will take your insurance.

When you schedule the appointment, communicate the reason for your visit to the person scheduling it, said Carney. For example, if you want your annual physical, mention that when you make your appointment. However, before calling to schedule a procedure such as a physical, check with your insurance to ensure coverage.

If you don’t tell the staff the reason you’re coming in, your visit may be given the wrong coding, and that could cause problems with your insurance.

If it’s your first visit with a new provider, expect that he or she will ask a lot of questions, Carney said. Expect the health care provider to be somewhat inquisitive as he or she needs to get a good understanding of your health history and a baseline for your ongoing care. This information will then be entered to their HCC risk adjustment coding system to help them identify patients with serious or acute illnesses. If you need help with HCC risk adjustment coding, you may seek the services of medical coding companies. You may also visit this site.

It helps to have your information and your questions written down to bring with you. That way you won’t forget to bring up anything important.

As your family history is an important tool for predicting your risk for disease, be ready to share health information about family members.

Don’t be afraid to be candid

If your provider asks questions that seem embarrassing or overly personal, remember that the information you provide enables him or her to better establish a diagnosis or determine which treatment is most appropriate for you. Be honest in response to questions about alcohol or drug use, sexual history, or other lifestyle matters. Be honest about the extent to which you are taking your medications or following a treatment plan. If you don’t share the correct information, it could affect the quality of your care and even lead to a wrong diagnosis or treatment.

Bring your list of medications, especially if you need refills, reminds Carney. Include all over-the-counter medicines you take, vitamins, and supplements, as any of these can be significant. If you’ve recently stopped a medication, include that.

You could also simply put all of your pill bottles and other medications in a plastic bag if that’s easier for you than writing complicated names and doses.

It’s helpful to have a list of other health care providers you’ve seen, added Carney. These could be any specialists you’ve seen, or testing you’ve had such as a CT scan or an MRI scan. Include when, where and why and testing occurred and make sure to keep this information updated.

If you’re seeing the provider for a specific concern, have the details written down. If you’re able to keep track and write things down for the few days before your appointment, it will be valuable — when the symptoms began, how long they last, and anything that makes it better or worse. Also denote if you’ve had it before, what treatment was provided, and what the outcome was.

Remember you’re a unique individual, added Carney. Now there is genetic testing to identify the medication that will work best for you — whether it’s an anti depressant, an analgesic, or anti-coagulant.

This is a breakthrough for providers as otherwise it’s trial and error. Some medications will work better than others for you.

And remember that your primary care provider is not a pain specialist. He or she can treat acute pain and can continue a plan of care developed by a specialist. See a pain specialist if this is your primary concern.

For your first visit, anticipate that your provider will order lab work and then have a follow up visit in four to six weeks to review the results.

Expect to have the reasons for the labs explained, medication explained, and any procedures explained. If you don’t understand anything, it’s important to ask, stressed Carney.

You might repeat back instructions your provider has given to make sure you’ve got it right.

Your return visits are important in establishing a relationship with the providers as well as the office staff. You need to feel comfortable, and that when you call in with a request, it will be handed. It’s a whole team and everyone is working together for you, Carney said.