Going to the doctor? Don't forget these 10 things

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To get the most out of your next medical appointment, take time to prepare.

There is much that happens at a typical doctor’s appointment, so knowing what to bring is essential.

  1. Paper and pencil: Much will be said and you want to make sure to take notes. Don’t be afraid to clarify with your doctor what you think was said.
  2. A second set of ears: Always try to bring a spouse, an older or adult child, a sibling, a friend, or a neighbor. Having a second set of ears helps both the patient and the doctor. If that person can also take the notes, it will make it easier for you to stay engaged with the doctor. If no one else is available, bring a digital recorder. Most physicians are fine with that.
  3. A summary of your most recent blood work: Before the appointment, call the doctor’s office to make sure you have an order for every test the doctor wishes you to have done before your visit. At the lab, ask how soon the doctor will receive the results. The two major labs, Labcorp and Quest, have patient portals where you can also download the results at home. Bring your copy to the doctor, just in case the office did not receive the results in time. Also bring any recent blood test results that your other doctors have ordered.
  4. A list of current medications: At home, write down all prescription medications as well as supplements such as vitamins and other over-the-counter medications. Note how often you take each, how many pills a day, and the strength of each (50 mg, 100 mg, etc.). Note all your medication allergies. Also have the name, location, and phone number of the pharmacy you use.
  5. Your appointment book or smartphone: You may need a follow-up appointment, you may need to schedule a procedure, or you may need to note a date when the doctor wants you to call the office.
  6. A list of questions: List every question that pops into your head as you prepare for the visit. Don’t depend on your memory. Some of those questions may be answered during the examination. Others may not. Don’t let the doctor rush through this part of the visit. Never leave an appointment not fully understanding what has been said and the directions you need to follow.
  7. A list of refills you need: Inventory your prescription medications before the visit, and bring a list of the medications for which you will soon need refills so you can avoid having to call later. Talk to your pharmacist if you need some help.
  8. A list of your other doctors and therapists: Prepare for each doctor you see a complete list of your other doctors. Include the name and address of each physician, the phone number, and the specialty. Include your rehab therapists and mental-health professionals. You can also include your preferred blood lab and imaging center.
  9. How you prefer to be reached: If you prefer to be called by the doctor directly about test results, indicate that. If you are OK with the office leaving test results on your answering machine, say so. If texting works, indicate so. Personally, I insist that the doctor call me and talk to me directly so that we can talk about it. Be sure to let your doctor know that you expect to hear as soon as the test results are received.
  10. Your insurance information: Finally, always bring your current insurance card and a photo ID. Many offices today will not allow you to see the doctor unless you present them. If your policy requires referrals, be sure to have them. If your insurance has changed since your last visit, let the office staff know. Doing all this will prevent problems with billing and paying unnecessary co-pays at the time of the visit.

Bob Kieserman is executive director of the Power of the Patient Project, a national initiative based in Cherry Hill. This is one of a series he is writing for the Inquirer. He may be contacted at powerofpatient@gmail.com.