When you visit your doctor, you might think all you have to do is show up and remember to bring your insurance card. But your relationship with your doctor is just that—a relationship. Showing up is critical, but it's only the first step.
If you want to know how to get the most out of your doctor's appointment, keep reading. Below, we'll discuss best practices to help you feel heard and engaged in your treatment plan.
1. Be prepared. (And never say, "But everything's in my medical records.")
The issue with the phrase "But everything's in my records" is that there's no such thing as a "universal" medical record.
Patients often conflate "universal" with "electronic." But electronic medical records (EMRs) mean digitized records—not universal records that all doctors can access.
You will have electronic medical records for every healthcare provider you see—from primary care physicians to specialists to ER doctors in hospitals. And even if you see providers within the same partner "system," they may only have access to some of your records—not all.
Bottom line: You are the sole keeper of your healthcare information, which is why you should bring any relevant records with you to your doctor's appointment, like a list of allergies, recent surgeries, or related lab reports.
For example, if you saw your primary care physician because you had a urinary tract infection and the PCP recommends you see a urologist or urogynecologist, you should bring a copy of the lab report with you when you go to that follow-up appointment with the urologist or urogyn.
Another way to be fully prepared for your appointment is to write out your questions and bring them with you. Don't be shy about reading from your list of questions—this is your time to get answers.
DO NOT send endless follow-up questions through the online portal or via email after the visit. Yes, you shouldn't hesitate to contact your doctor with urgent questions, like medication side effects or something concerning you after surgery. But if you have another set of routine questions, schedule a follow-up visit rather than emailing or calling.
2. Be on time (or early).
Dr. Angel Marie Johnson, the Director of Women's Health at GBU, says, "Just like the doctor respects your time, you have to respect our time."
Patients sometimes get irritated when their doctor runs late—and the patients wrongly assume it doesn’t matter if they're subsequently late to their appointments. But patients who arrive late only exacerbate the problem. When doctors run late, it's usually because another patient was late or needed the extra time for their appointment. You being late creates a domino effect where everyone loses.
Plus, keep in mind that a doctor's time is dynamic. If one patient requires more time due to a complex case, the doctor will give the patient more time.
"Our time is very dynamic in that way," Dr. Johnson says. "But definitely be on time if you want to have a meaningful conversation with your physician, get your questions answered, and move in the right direction."
3. Make sure everyone who should be at the appointment is present.
If you have a caregiver or someone who helps you make healthcare decisions, they should accompany you in person to your medical appointments. So, for example, if an adult child is involved in the care of her mother, the adult child should attend the appointment.
Don't expect a doctor to take a call from someone who wasn't present and rehash the entire visit. Physicians see upwards of forty patients a day, so any calls they take outside of standard office visits are done on their own time—so it's not an acceptable expectation.
Also, if a patient has dementia or other cognitive issues, they should never see the doctor alone because it won't be a meaningful interaction for them or the physician.
Dr. Johnson explains, "If I ask a patient how everything's going and they tell me they're doing well, then I'll say 'Great. Keep doing what you're doing.' But if the patient isn't doing well and can’t tell me, then I won't know. This is why the spouse, adult child, or other caregiver must be present."
4. Understand your health insurance, including your prescription drug coverage.
Health insurance is complex. Make sure you understand your coverage. Before seeing a new provider, like a urologist or urogynecologist, call the number on your insurance card and ask about co-pay, out-of-pocket costs for office visits, details about your prescription drug benefit, and deductible. Make sure you understand any requirements regarding referrals (if needed) and if you can only see a provider in-network.
If you're slated for surgery or a procedure, ask what your maximum out-of-pocket will be so that you can plan accordingly.
Your doctor won't know your prescription drug benefits, like whether or not your insurance will cover a specific medication. A physician's commitment to you is to prescribe what they believe is the safest and best medication for you. If your insurance doesn't cover the medication or you can’t afford it, contact your doctor, and they will prescribe an alternative.
5. Keep in mind that medical secretaries can't provide medical advice.
While our secretaries have training in basic medical vocabulary, they don't have training in medicine, so they can't provide medical advice. They're trained to take a message and send it to your doctor—that's it. So asking them questions won't get you far—save those questions for your doctor or other healthcare professional, like a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
Remember that your doctor's office staff won't know what your insurance does or doesn't cover, either. As noted earlier, you must have that conversation directly with your insurance provider.
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