How To Prep For A Doctor's Appointment

by Kim Foster, MD

Doctor’s appointments are brief, over in a flash. How do you maximize that time? How do you make sure you give your doctor the information she needs, and you get the answers you need? It’s a skill, just like any other. Here’s your insider’s crash course. 

You’ve probably heard this piece of advice before: make a list of your concerns. What people don’t often mention is that it’s crucial to prioritize that list. Most GPs schedule 10-15 minutes for a visit, and that includes the time required to make chart notes, order relevant tests, and make any necessary referrals. Not a lot of time, right? It’s impossible to cover a seven-item list in that time. Not thoroughly, anyway. It’s always frustrating, for everyone involved, when a patient “warms me up” with a couple of the non-urgent items on their list, and then gets to the real meat of the visit. A big issue needs a thorough assessment; if it gets crammed in at the end, that’s a recipe for dissatisfaction--on both sides. Start with the important stuff. No need for small talk, and there is no place for shyness. Just get right to business. 

And if you genuinely have seven concerns on your list? Book a follow-up appointment to deal with the other issues. Keep coming back until we address everything on your list. However, to prevent a pile-up of seven issues—don’t put off visiting your doctor. Don’t “save up” your questions and concerns. Book an appointment whenever you have something you need to discuss. 

When you come for your visit, be sure to bring in all your medication. It’s crucial information, but people often neglect to do this. Pill bottles are best, with all the information on the label. 

Finally, if there’s something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Sometimes doctors make assumptions about what constitutes common knowledge. No need to feel ashamed if you need something repeated or clarified. Better that, than walking away feeling confused and frustrated. 

The doctor-patient relationship is a partnership. A little preparation will help ensure you get the best health care possible. 

Bio: Dr. Kim Foster is a family physician, writer, and mom. She has beenpracticing medicine for 13 years, and makes regular TV, radio, and speaking appearances. Online, you can find her blogging about healthy living and

In 2003 Dr. Kim’s own father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent a radical prostatectomy in that same year and, happily, has been healthy and cancer-free ever since.
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