Tips for getting the most from your health care visits

Rebecca Crane-Okada, PhD, RN, CNS, AOCN® | January 2020

Many of us leave our medical appointments with questions unanswered because we forgot. Stress and worry or nervousness around medical things make this especially difficult. The diagnosis of a life-changing illness compounds this as there is so much to learn. Here are a few tips for getting the most from your health care visits.

1. Make a list of your questions or concerns ahead of time. Prioritize them. If not all can be addressed at one visit, pick those that are most important to you to start with. Make a plan with your provider on how the remainder of your questions or concerns will be addressed.

2. Take someone with you. Another pair of eyes and ears can be extremely helpful, especially if you get nervous or anxious at medical appointments.

3. Communicate as clearly as possible. If you are happy, mad, angry, sad, fearful, relieved: be honest. Let your provider know about any new concerns you have.

4. Take notes on what is important to you. Take a pen and paper (or your smart tablet or phone). Sometimes you may want to ask your provider to jot down key points for you as well. Some providers will let you voice record an appointment—always ask first.

5. Review your understanding with your provider. “This is what I understand of what you said. Is this correct?” It is OK to ask for clarification, or to say you don’t understand.

6. Ask for printed information about your diagnosis or treatment, or a reliable source for more information (the internet has a lot of information but not all of it is accurate or helpful).

7. Ask for copies of your test results and keep them organized. Some people file these by date; others keep these by type of test. Now with electronic medical records you may even be able to download copies to your computer, or to a jump drive for travel.

8. If you are seeking other opinions, other providers will need this information which may not be shared between electronic records. The same is true for x-rays (imaging) which you may need to request “downloaded to a CD.”

9. If you need help, ask. If your provider is not the one who can help, he or she likely knows of someone to whom they can direct you.

10. Keep a calendar of all appointments in one place. This way you can look back and easily find when you saw which providers or had which tests and where.

11. If you get stuck and don’t know where to turn, your health insurance company may have a “case manager” who can guide you. Or, if someone has a diagnosis of a life-changing illness such as cancer, consider someone like myself who can help you navigate your health care.

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