Save time and money with your visit with healthcare providers

Have you ever been frustrated by an unproductive or inopportune visit with your doctor that wasted your time and money?

Here are a few tips to keep that from happening again.

The problem

Many visits with healthcare providers are poorly timed and less productive than they could be.  Why?  Because nobody is looking out for you between visits. It’s not that your doctor doesn’t care.  He or she is simply too busy with clinical tasks to be able to optimize your visits.

As a result, you spend more money and get suboptimal care:

  • Extra visits and additional costs at the pharmacy.
  • Incorrect or unnecessary testing and treatment.
  • Rushed decisions and explanations.
  • Some visits are so handicapped by poor planning that they accomplish nothing, wasting both your time and money.

It is easy to minimize the number of visits and maximize the time with your doctor.

The solution

You can easily accomplish more for less cost at the doctor’s office with what I call SMART Preparation–Scheduling, Medications, Agenda, Records and Tests.

The exercise will only take a minute or two and will pay off every time.


Optimize visit timing and duration.

  • Most important:  When making the appointment, inform the receptionist of EVERY issue that you need to cover so that adequate time is scheduled.  If you think of additional topics to be addressed, call back to allow a previously scheduled visit to be extended.
  • Schedule visits just before medications refills are due to avoid wasting purchased prescriptions.
  • Using a mail-order pharmacy?  Allow time for shipping to avoid expensive local refills.
  • Space out visits to different healthcare providers to avoid redundant care.


Save money by knowing your medication history and cost information.

  • Most important:  Bring your insurance drug formulary and/or pharmacy discount drug list.
  • Be sure to know details about any ineffective or poorly tolerated past medications.  (Tip:  If you can’t remember a name or dose, check with the pharmacy.)
  • Carry an accurate list of current medications and dosages.


To avoid a return visit sooner than expected, have a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished this visit.

  • Most important:  Make a prioritized list of items that you hope to address.  Always present your list to the doctor at the start of the visit.
  • Don’t count on your doctor to identify non-immediate issues that may soon need follow-up.  (Tip:  Look for any prescriptions that have fewer than five refills left.)
  • Identify any future exam or paperwork deadlines (school, camp, daycare, work, employment, insurance).  Address them now, or account for them in the timing of your visit.


Don’t let lack of needed information undermine your visit.

  • Most important:  Turn in your homework.  Examples might include home blood pressure measurements, blood sugar results or a detailed timeline of your symptoms.
  • Gather or request all past records related to issues that you plan to address.
  • Bring all recommendations from other healthcare providers seen since your last visit.


Avoid unnecessary testing and being hauled back into the office for overlooked lab work.

  • Most important:  Consider what tests you will soon be due for.  Get them out of the way now.
  • Bring a copy of all recent and past pertinent test results done elsewhere.
  • Get a copy of any test results performed this visit.

It is up to you

When seeking assistance from any professional, ample preparation allows you to accomplish more in less time.  In the medical setting it will also improve your care and save money along the way.

Now with SMART Preparation you can spend less for your care than just showing up at the office and hoping for the best.

Stephen Meyers is a family physician who blogs at The Med Savings Blog.


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  • Jackie Fox

    Good advice!

  • Anonymous

    What about checking whether to do an overnight fast for the blood work, if that is to be done at the appointment?

    • Stephen Meyers, MD

      Great suggestion! Not fasting may result in the need to later return for labwork, often associated with an additional charge/co-pay.

      So when to fast?

      Keep in mind that receptionists/schedulers know little of what will be addressed during your visit. Having the office staff ask your doctor is not foolproof either, as he or she can’t predict what new concerns or issues you may be bring to the visit.

      As a general rule it is best to fast for the visit if you suspect that there may be a need to check your glucose (sugar) or cholesterol. Most other common tests are accurate in a nonfasting state.

  • NEMO

    Also, under Medications, be sure to include a list of ALL over-the-counter medinces and/or supplements!

  • Reta Russell Houghton

    Being organized helps the patient and doctor. Everyone of my appointments are meaningful because I take time to be prepared. My time is too valuable to waste. I have developed a standard sequence of questions I discuss with my doctors. The last two questions always involve refills and when to return (next appointment). I take the time to type the questions so I can ask them in the most clear and concise way. I make notes on their responses of these pages.

    Under medications, I also do a pill count and list how many refills I still on each medication. Then, I make a note of what medications need refills. And like Nemo’s comment, I have everything typed up for the doctor, along with who prescribed it and the start dates.

    I recently volunteered for a drug study, the nurse interviewing me really like the typed list with start dates on the medications.

    • Stephen Meyers, MD

      There is no doubt in my mind that your preparation allows you to accomplish more during a visit and reduces the need to return for extra appointments.

      Tip for “list makers”: The individual who presents their list/agenda to the doctor early in the visit will almost always accomplish more than waiting to pull out the list at the end of the encounter.

  • Reta Russell Houghton

    I call my doctor 10-14 days prior to schedule my labs. I do them the week before so they are back in time for the appointment. So, as my old doctor would say, “Then we have something to talk about.”

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