Whether you're going in for a yearly physical at one of our primary care clinics or meeting with a new specialist to treat a complex condition, here's how to make the most of your appointment.
1. Follow any specific instructions you receive.
Your doctor or clinic may give you specific instructions about how to prepare for your appointment, what to provide ahead of time and what to bring. For some visits, you may need to bring medical records, family history materials or test results.
Read any instructions carefully, and if you receive them over the phone or face to face, take notes. You can always contact the clinic directly to confirm that everything is in order for your upcoming visit.
2. Bring your insurance card and a photo ID.
We may need to confirm your health coverage at the appointment.
3. Make a list.
The actual time in a doctor's office can go quickly, and unless you're prepared, it's easy to overlook things you were hoping to cover. So, spend a little time beforehand considering what you want to get out of your appointment.
Think about the questions you want to ask your doctor. Think about your health goals. Think about information you want to be sure your doctor knows. Write these things down, and bring the list with you.
Keep in mind: A concise list is more helpful than a very long list of your priorities.
4. Bring your medications and supplements.
On your list should be the medications and supplements you take, including exact names and doses – but it's probably simpler to bring the bottles with you.
Be sure to account for everything you take, even over-the-counter drugs and supplements. That means vitamins, painkillers, antacids and so on. Your medical provider needs to know about these because many substances can alter the effectiveness of medications a doctor might prescribe.
5. Ask a friend or family member to join you.
We don't all have someone who can accompany us to appointments, but if you do, consider the benefits. A friend or family member can listen, take notes and advocate for you (if that's something you want).
6. Arrive early.
Whether you come by car or take public transportation, traffic in the Bay Area can be tough. Also, you may need to complete paperwork when you arrive at the clinic. Expect delays, and allow plenty of time to get here and get settled.
7. Expect to have some free time.
Even if you're not anticipating a long day, it's worthwhile to prepare for one. Depending on the reason for your visit, you may need to see more than one health care provider, or you may need to go for tests and wait for results.
So, pack snacks, bring a book and load up your streaming queue.
8. Be open with your doctor.
Clear communication between you and your doctor is vital for your health. Be honest, even it feels embarrassing. Don't hold back information about your health, symptoms and things in your life that could affect your well-being. Your doctor is there to help.
If you do feel uncomfortable at any point during your appointment, say so. And if you're having a hard time following the discussion, ask your doctor to slow down and clarify points – or even to speak more slowly and clearly, if that would help.
If your English is limited or your speech or hearing is impaired, we can provide you with interpreters and other communication support services.
9. Ask questions.
If you made a list, you'll come to the appointment with a few specific questions to ask. Keep an eye on your list to make sure you're covering everything you wanted to.
New questions may arise during the conversation. Ask away. There are no bad questions here.
10. Take notes.
Bring a pen and paper or digital device for note-taking. Notes can help you keep track of the conversation and return to the main points later, when your memory of the visit might have become fuzzy.
If a friend or family member comes with you, ask them to take the notes. If you’re alone, just do your best. Don't worry if you can't capture everything.