To avoid a mismatch between the practice’s expectations and your own, Dr. Goldman suggests preparing a list of concerns, prioritized by what’s most pressing, that you want your doctor to address. Ideally, you would share that information in advance with the scheduler or in a secure message via the online portal, if you have access to one. That helps ensure that you get the attention you need and deserve, Dr. Goldman says, by making the encounter as efficient as possible.
Even if you’re not able to share your list of concerns with the practice staff in advance, make sure you know how long your visit is supposed to be. “It’s helpful for the patient to ask, how long is this visit?” Mathew Devine, D.O., associate medicine professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York, and medical director of Highland Family Medicine, tells SELF. “They know they’re supposed to arrive at 11:45, but does that mean the visit is 15 minutes or 20 or 45 minutes? Patients should be aware of that.”
3. If possible, be extremely detailed when you brief the practice staff.
At a typical doctor’s office, the front-desk staff, nurses, and medical assistants are all key players in queueing up your visit. So let the staff help you by providing them as much detail as possible.
“By letting the schedulers, medical assistant, and nurses know what’s going on ahead of the visit, the physician has time to review the chart and focus on potential causes—medications or previous medical history, for example—that might be contributing to the patient’s concerns,” Dr. Goldman tells SELF. “I suggest that patients dedicate time to writing out their concerns and then, if possible, elaborate on each concern. Create a timeline or big picture of when the issue started and the treatments you’ve tried.”
The better informed the doctor is, the better the visit may go. Dr. Devine describes an “A+” experience involving a patient who’d been in an accident. The patient was managing several different health care providers and services, and the day before her visit, she sent, through the portal, an update on how she was doing and what she wanted to talk about in the visit. “I have the update and the agenda, so once we get in the room, I’m cooking,” Dr. Devine says. “It’s amazing when patients are prepared like that.” But it’s also unusual; in his experience, only 10% of patients prepare and bring a list to the visit. There are many valid reasons why it might not be possible for you to provide that kind of detailed update beforehand, such as a lack of time. But if you’re able to do this, it can be really helpful.
If the visit will be virtual, preparation is especially crucial. Try to make sure you have all pertinent information on hand and available to the doctor in advance. This includes not only your medications and a timeline of your concerns but also images of the area you’re having an issue with—if that’s applicable and doable. Ideally, it helps if you also access the virtual platform before the scheduled visit start time to make sure it’s working smoothly, Dr. Goldman tells SELF. “Technical glitches can be a challenge, so ensuring a working connection, camera, and access to the application before the visit starts can help prevent issues when it is time for the visit,” he says.
4. Understand that your visit agenda and the doctor’s might differ.
If you show up with an eight-item list, the doctor might not be able to address all your concerns in one visit. Also, keep in mind that the doctor will want to focus on any potentially serious issue first. “Sometimes, my patient’s number one problem they want to talk about is different than mine,” Dr. Devine says. The patient might be worried about a spot on her skin that he can tell isn’t cancerous, he explains, but he wants to start with the unintended weight loss that the patient mentioned in the portal before the visit. “I want to make sure the patient gets to talk about their agenda items, but there are some things where we have to meet in the middle,” he says.