What to Do Before, During and After Your Doctor Visit

Before Your Visit

WHN Expert TIP – Family Health Details: Providing your doctor with information about illnesses and causes of death for family members can highlight potential genetic risks for things like heart disease or breast cancer. Include new additions to the family, as well, recommends Dr. David R. Donnersberger.

  • Print out our Medical Appointment Tracking Form to take with you to the visit. (You’ll need Acrobat Reader. It’s FREE.)
  • Gather your insurance information. You’ll usually need to show your insurance, Medicare or Medicaid Card(s). Check your insurance policy or talk to your agent about co-pays.
  • Having health problems? Write down your symptoms and when they started.
  • Taking medication (prescription or OTC), vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies? Bring the bottles along with the name of the doctor who prescribed them, what they are for, how long you have been taking them and when you were to stop.
  • Have multiple healthcare providers? Bring their contact information and the date last seen.

WHN Expert TIP – Bring Copies: Bring along a written copy of any diagnostic reports, any tests, and if you’ve had surgery, bring along a copy of the surgical report, recommends Dr. Malton A. Schexneider, PT, MMSc

During the Visit

  • Provide all your information and complete any necessary forms.
  • Stay focused on the purpose of your visit. (Keep in mind the typical visit lasts only 17 minutes!)
  • Mention any health, medical, personal or lifestyle changes to the doctor.

WHN Expert TIP – Spill the Beans: Mention all changes in work or social habits. Have you lost your job? Do you party every other night? This information will offer your physician a complete picture of your current lifestyle, and that’s what he or she needs to make valuable recommendations. David R. Donnersberger, MD

  • Be concise when describing symptoms (when they started or what they feel like. Answer questions as best you can).
  • Ask questions about things you don’t understand (tests, procedures, symptoms, diagnoses, medications, etc.).
  • Although you may be in pain, be polite — but let the staff know about your level of discomfort, especially if it’s severe.

If Medication Is Advised

  • Make sure you know what it is for and that the doctor knows the other medications you are currently taking.
  • Note details about the prescribed medications. (What You Need to Know About Your Medications has a list of questions to ask.)

WHN Expert TIP – Insurance Coverage: Not sure what prescriptions are covered under your insurance plan? Head to your insurance company’s website and print out the complete list of medications covered under your prescription plan. This will save time and money, according to Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN.

Review this starter list of questions. Feel free to add on your own:

  • What is the medication called?
  • What is this drug(s) or treatment(s) for?
  • When should I take this medication? Is time of day important?
  • How is it administered? Should I take it with water or food?
  • Are there food or drug interactions to be aware of?
  • What are the possible side effects or problems that can occur?
  • What are the brand names and the generic names of the drug(s)? (Have the doctor/nurse write them down for you.)
  • Are there any changes needed regarding my current medications?
  • Are there any activity, dietary or alcohol restrictions?
  • How long will I have to take this medication?
  • What should I do if I forget to take it?
  • Should I talk to the doctor before I refill the prescription?
  • Should I call the doctor to talk about the progress of the medication/treatment?
  • What’s the next step after the medication?

If Tests Are Ordered

If tests or lab work are ordered, ask the following questions:

  • What is it for? What is the doctor looking for?
  • Who schedules the test?
  • How soon should I have it done?
  • Do I need insurance pre-authorization?
  • How is it done?
  • What information will the results provide?
  • Is this test the only way to find out that information?
  • What are the benefits and risks of having this test?
  • How accurate is the test?
  • Is there anything I should do to prepare for the tests?
  • Will the test be uncomfortable?
  • Would the test have any possible side effects?
  • When will the results be ready?
  • Who will call me with the results?
  • What’s the next step after the test?

WHN TIP – Extra Copies: Request that all tests and procedures be marked “Copy to Patient” so you can receive copies for your files. If you’re seeing multiple doctors, request that a second copy is forwarded to your primary care doctor, and provide the name, address and fax number.

When Medical Diagnosis is Given

The following questions will help you better understand your diagnosis.

WHN TIP – Ask for an Explanation: Your doctor should explain the diagnosis to you in a way that you can understand. This can include showing you the X-rays, pointing out lab results that are out of normal range or other ways of making it clear. Have the doctor or nurse explain medical terms and conditions you don’t understand.

  • What is the exact diagnosis and prognosis?
  • Why do I have this problem?
  • How will this diagnosis affect my overall health and in the future?
  • Will more tests be needed?
  • Regarding diagnosed conditions, what treatment options are available?
  • What are the possible side effects that can result from each one?
  • What are the possible benefits from each treatment? When will I start to see them?
  • What are the chances that the treatment will work?
  • Where will the treatment take place?
  • What pre-existing conditions might influence the treatment or prognosis?
  • What will happen if I don’t get treatment right away?
  • What are the costs for each treatment and will my insurance cover it?
  • What is the typical recovery time for my condition?
  • What can I do to help speed recovery?
  • Should I make any dietary, lifestyle or medication changes? If so, how will that affect the recommended treatment? (For example, could you take less of this medication if you lost weight?)
  • Are there organizations or specialists that deal with this kind of problem or situation? Is there a patient support group?
  • Should I see a specialist? Can the doctor recommend one? How soon should I see this specialist?
  • What resources (websites, magazines, etc.) have more information?
  • If my doctor is away on vacation or unavailable, who will be able to answer any follow-up questions I may have?
  • When should I come back?

At the end of your appointment, consider requesting reminder phone calls, e-mails or postcards (whatever works best for you) about regular check-ups.

WHN TIP – Second Opinion: You may want to get a second opinion, especially if it’s a major health issue or you want to confirm the treatment option is the best choice.

After the Visit

  1. Keep a diary of your condition. Track the name and details of each medication. Note changes (better or worse….).
    • Watch for side effects from medications. Write down symptoms.
    • If you believe you are experiencing a side effect, or if your condition worsens, contact your doctor or pharmacist right away. Tell them if you have done anything to try and treat it. If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1.
  2. Contact your doctor’s office with follow-up questions regarding your medications, tests, treatments, insurance information and/or diagnosis.
  3. If your doctor wants you to have additional tests or see a specialist, make the appointment.

Thank You …

A special thank you to the industry professionals, doctors, nurses, patients and families who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.


The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. These tips are from doctors, nurses and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a doctor or appropriate professional you trust before making any healthcare-related decisions.