Going to the Doctor

by Paul Konrardy

Before Your Visit

Download the free My Personal Medication Record pdf from the AARP  in English or Spanish. Complete one form for each family member, and update as needed.

While you’re gathering information, complete the My Family Health Portrait from the Surgeon General’s Office for background information on family illnesses and diseases.

WHN TIP – Fill It Out: Our Medical Appointment Tracking Form will help you track each appointment and your progress. Fill out the form and add it to your folder after each appointment. You can also complete it on your computer, save to your desktop and update as needed. You’ll need Acrobat Reader. It’s FREE.

WHN TIP – Family Update: Update on your family history. “If your grandmother or even your great-uncle passed away, when did that happen and what were the circumstances? This lets your doctor know your genetic risks for things like heart disease or breast cancer. Include new additions to the family, as well.” David R. Donnersberger, MD

WHN TIP – Insurance Info: 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.

  1. If you are not well, write down your symptoms and when they started. (Use our 10 Ways to Describe Your Symptoms to help.)
  2. Have you seen additional medical practitioners since your last visit? Bring their contact info.
  3. Bring a list of medications you are taking, the prescribing physician, what they are for, how long you have been taking them and when the prescription ends. Don’t forget to list any nonprescription medications, herbal supplements or minerals and vitamins you are taking.

WHN Expert TIP – Bring Reports and Copies of Tests: 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.

At The Doctor’s Office

  1. Hand them your list of symptoms and medications and fill out any other necessary forms.
  2. Make a mention of any and all tests you’ve had in the last 6 months and give the name of the physician and location where they were taken. Your doc should know any and all tests you’ve undergone, from pregnancy to stress to physical therapy.
  3. Mention any health or medical changes to the doctor at your appointment.

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? Spill the beans. 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

  1. Be concise when describing symptoms (when they started, what they feel like and answer questions as best you can).
  2. Ask questions about things you don’t understand (tests, procedures, symptoms, diagnoses, medications, etc.).
  3. Although you may be in pain, be polite.

If Medication Is Advised

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

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! Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN

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

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


  1. If tests are ordered, what are they are for?
  2. Who schedules the tests?
  3. How soon should I have them?
  4. What is the doctor looking for?
  5. How are the tests done?
  6. What information will the results provide?
  7. Is this test the only way to find out that information?
  8. What are the benefits and risks of having this test?
  9. How accurate is the test?
  10. Is there anything I should do to prepare for the tests?
  11. Will the test be uncomfortable?
  12. Would the test have any possible side effects?
  13. When will the results be ready?
  14. Who tells me the results?
  15. 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. Provide your doctor’s name and address, if they are at a different clinic or location.

Medical Diagnosis

Here is a starter list of questions you may want to ask. Feel free to omit or add questions of your own.

WHN TIP – Explain the Diagnosis: Have the doctor explain the diagnosis to the patient. That is the doctor’s job.

  1. What is the exact diagnosis and prognosis? (Ask the doctor or nurse to explain medical terms and conditions you don’t understand.)
  2. Why do I have this problem?
  3. How will this diagnosis affect my overall health and in the future?
  4. Will more tests be needed?
  5. Regarding diagnosed conditions, what treatment options are available?
  6. What are the possible side effects that can result from each one?
  7. What are the possible benefits from each treatment? When will I start to see them?
  8. What are the chances that the treatment will work?
  9. Where will the treatment take place?
  10. What pre-existing conditions might influence the treatment or prognosis?
  11. What will happen if I don’t get treatment right away?
  12. What are the costs for each treatment and will my insurance cover it?
  13. What is the typical recovery time for my condition?
  14. What can I do to help speed recovery?
  15. 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?)
  16. Read 5 FAQs About Getting a Second Opinion if you want a second opinion.
  17. Are there organizations or specialists that deal with this kind of problem or situation? Is there a patient support group?
  18. What resources (websites, magazines, etc.) have more information?
  19. Should I see a specialist? Can the doctor recommend one? How soon should I see this specialist?
  20. Can the specialist contact my doctor via phone with follow-up questions regarding my diagnosis and/or condition?
  21. When is the best time to call? What days are best?
  22. If my doctor is away on vacation or unavailable, who will be able to answer any follow-up questions I may have?
  23. When should I meet with my doctor again?

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

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 said you need additional tests, make appointments.
  4. If your doctor suggested you see a specialist, make an appointment.

Remember …

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.

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.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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