“Proffesional Patient Tip” Preparing for a Doctor’s Visit


Doctor and PatientSeeing the doctor is rarely what I would call fun. You are usually there because you don’t feel well and you usually fall into the following categories: Having a diasnosis you thought you had walking into a door- and possibly seeing a new doctor for a 2nd opinion, or a treatment/ investigation of some new symtoms, or your usual treament isn’t helping- and you are feeling worse. Being organized might be the best way to help yourself when seeing the doctor about your diagnosis or future treatment.

Nobody likes waiting, especially when you’re not feeling well. Patients would rather be elsewhere, and contrary to popular belief, physicians do not like to keep patients waiting. Instead of spending time in the waiting room counting the minutes, you may be able to better use the time by preparing for the doctor visit.

Advanced planning can help you get more out of your visit. Most of us end up seeing our doctor more often than some of our family members! So why not make the visit a more enjoyable and less stressful one, but more importantly, why not make it a productive one by being educated about why you are there?

Getting Started…
Doctors are trained to recognize the state of the disease by the pattern of the symptoms. If you are prepared for your doctor visit by listing your symptoms, you will be better able to answer your doctor’s questions, which can help him solve the puzzle and determine what’s wrong with you or how best to help you feel better. As always, be honest in your preparations for your doctor visit. Your doctor will appreciate the effort you have put in, and you will feel better knowing you had a more productive visit.

Before the visit…
Bring a list of any and all medications, allergies, and other doctors you might see. This is helpful for reactions that might occur with medications your doctor might not know you are taking.

Tip: I find it helpful to have everything typed out on the computer, so that I just print out the info when I see my regular doctor or a new doctor. It is easy to update since it is on the computer, and it is more organized. If my hands hurt from writing, I am thankful to have brought all the information with me when the secretary hands me all those “new patient papers.”
3 Types of Doctor’s Visits:

It may sound silly, but every visit is different even if it is with the same doctor. There’s a big difference between going when you’re feeling great and just “checking in” versus an emergency visit with all symptoms announcing themselves. By preparing specifically for each type of visit, you will get in and out much quicker, and feel better, too.
The 3 types of visits are:
1. Sick patient
2. Follow-up visit
3. Routine check-up

When You Are Sick: When an illness sends you to the doctor’s, the patient wants to know, “What do I have?” In preparing for this type of visit, the patient’s goal should be to help the physician answer that question. Like a detective, the doctor will want to know all sorts of things about your particular illness, such as how, what, when, and where the symptoms are occurring in the body. Preparing outside the office in a less rushed atmosphere allows you time to think without the stress of thinking of an answer on the spot. Sit, think, organize, and write down your thoughts to answer the following types of questions:
1. What are your symptoms?
2. When did your symptoms begin?
3. Have you ever had these symptoms in the past?
4. Can you relate the onset to a new medicine, stress, injury or other significant event?
5. What were you doing at the onset of symptoms?
6. Have the symptoms changed over time?
7. What made your symptoms better or worse?
8. What alarmed you enough to come to the doctor?
9. How long should I take the medicine you prescribe?
10. What are potential side effects to these medications?
11. Will the new medication for this particular situation interfere with any medicine I am already on?

Follow-Up Visit: Follow-up visits exist to help you and your doctor evaluate treatment progress. Common questions or things to think at the follow-up visit are:
1. How am I doing?
2. Should I be doing anything else?
3. When will I be able to stop the treatment?
4. When should I make my next appointment?
5. Have I been feeling worse or better since the initial visit?

The purpose of the follow-up visit is different from the initial visit, and so is the preparation. Just as there are patterns for the onset of an illness, there are expected patterns for recovery. Your doctor will want to know if you are progressing as expected. Often, your condition changes, and you may not notice gradual changes. A review of your previous notes will help you. Sit, think, organize and write down your thoughts.
Especially if you have not improved, prepare for your visit using both questions for a sick visit and some of the questions for a follow-up visit listed below.

If you have improved, the following type of questions may be used to monitor your progress:
1. How did the symptom change since the last visit?
2. Have you noticed any new symptoms since your last visit?
3. How did you tolerate the new treatment (any medication side effects, etc.)?
4. How regularly were you able to take your medicine or treatment? (Be honest, if you couldn’t take your medications regularly, why did this happen? Nausea, lifestyle, difficulty, etc.?)
5. What lifestyle changes, if any, were you able to make?
6. What continues to make your symptoms better or worse?
7. Where do you have any residual symptoms?
8. When, after starting treatment, did you notice a difference?
9. Do you have any questions that have arisen from things your friends, neighbors, or spouse have said, or things you have heard from the news media?
Routine Visit: Sometimes patients see their doctors when they feel well. Although you might want to miss this visit, this can be very important to have a “baseline” or reference point for other visits. This is the visit to discuss preventive medicine, ending certain medications that you may be on, health maintenance issues (screening tests), and overall health.

These are some of the type of questions to consider:
1. How you are feeling on your current treatment?
2. Should you make any lifestyle changes?
3. Do you have any questions that have arisen from things your friends, neighbors, or spouse have said, or things you have heard from the news media?
4. What preventive or screening tests should be done for you?
5. When will you be able to decrease your frequency of doctor visits?
6. If you take a lot of pills daily, is there a way you would be able to change your medications to decrease the number of pills you take each day?
7. Are the other activities in your life okay for you to participate in? Exercise, typing, driving, etc.
8. Are you happy with how your treatment is going and your current quality of life? Why or why not?
These are just a few suggestions for questions or things to think about.

You know your body best, and you need to be your own advocate in the doctor’s office. A little preparation can go a long way to make your visit with the doctor as productive, pleasant, and helpful as possible!

written by Christine Miserandino

  • DAnnP

    Seems like the more organized I am, the more the doctors think I’m a hypochondriac. It took me 6 years and several doctors to get a large pelvic mass diagnosed. Doctors kept telling me my abdominal pain and heart palpitations were just anxiety and stress. I ended up requiring major surgery. Luckily the mass was benign. Then, I suffered for 2 years with extreme widespread pain, weakness, fatigue and vertigo. Again I was told by multiple doctors that my symptoms were due to stress and anxiety. One doctor even said I was a hypochondriac. Turns out I had a tumor on one of my four parathyroid glands as well as a cyst on my thyroid gland. Again, I required surgery. For years I’ve been suffering from a number of incapacitating symptoms and my lab tests reveal that I have some type of systemic inflammatory condition, which two doctors have said is likely the result of an autoimmune disease (or multiple autoimmune diseases). After my first two humiliating experiences in getting diagnosed and basically being told my symptoms were all in my head, I now actually feel great anxiety about going to see a specialist. Seems like every time I do, they don’t take me seriously and dismiss my symptoms as stress rather than trying to help me find out what is wrong. Now, my symptoms have gotten so bad that I have difficulty dressing, bathing and maintaining a home due to pain and periods of weakness, but every time I decide to go see a specialist, I lose my courage and put it off for fear of not being believed yet again. Why don’t doctors care? Why do they humiliate their patients and dismiss their symptoms? Whatever happened to “first do no harm?” Isn’t it doing harm not to do your very best to find out what is wrong with your patient and cease her suffering. I guess I just don’t understand doctors’ attitudes. One could say that most doctors are not like that, but in my experience with doctors — including those on the Top Doctors list — “most” doctors “are” like that. The really good, caring ones who think outside the box and go the extra mile for their patients are few and far between.

  • Christine , any words for someone being an advocate for their own health, but yet feeling frustrated by the medical community?? Trying to stick with one Rheum and make head way, but struggling to make headway by being tossed around. ANy suggestions?

  • Christine, thank you posting this on the website. On my third Rheumalogist and I feel like I am starting from scratch. Yes you Lupus and Fibro, no you don’t. Some days so frustrating on top of handling life and child. I try to be patient, but I think anyone who deals with this can get discouraged after years of dealing with it.

  • Thank you for the wonderful information that will make my doctors’ visits much smoother and easier. I especially appreciate classifying the visits by types so I can prepare for each one.

    Christine, you give so much to this community and the world. You are a gift!


  • Jennifer Hunt

    Thankyou so much for this post! With Lupus and Fibro I’ve had to argue with my doctors about symptoms…so much so that by the time I got diagnosed, I thought most were in my head! Keep up the great work Christine~!

  • jaime lasley

    thank you for the tios i found them to be very useful especially since i go back to the dr this week. thanks for your hard work and time

  • Peter Harmen Burke

    Very sound advice, talk to your Doctor don’t let him/she do all the talking, if you have more than one Doctor talk about your visit to them with the others and Make sure you let All Doctors know the medication your taken, also talk your Pharmacist.

  • joy

    my doctor never reacts like this. he’s a butt. I try to tell him and he says well the tests say… and he more than anyone, says but u dont look sick.