Preparing for your doctor’s visit: 10 things to always bring

Most patients I see are surprised to find out that there’s something they should have brought to their doctor’s visit. Granted, I’m an emergency physician, and many of my patients come to me in emergency situations that they can’t plan for. However, most people have some heads-up for going to their doctor. Certainly if you’re going to your annual check-up or a routine appointment, you should bring these items with you.

Keep this checklist readily accessible; even if you’re going to the hospital for an emergency appointment, aim to take the following 10 items with you:

1. A medical card. It would be ideal for every doctor to have a full list of your medical history, but our country is not even close to having a nationally accessible medical record system. To make sure your doctor has your information available, carry a card with you. You can find many cards that easily downloadable on the Internet where you list your medical problems, surgeries, doctor’s names, insurance, and allergies. Especially if you are seeing a coverage doctor or visiting the E.R., he or she may not have your medical record. This makes sure that your doctor can see your most critical medical information.

2. Changes to your medical record. If you have had recent test results since you last saw your doctor, bring these with you. Even if it was your doctor that you’re going to see who sent you to get the test, bringing the results will make sure that they are discussed during the visit.

3. Your medications. Very often, patients come in and say that they can’t remember what they’re taking. “I think I stopped taking the pink tiny pill, but I’m still taking the white one and the blue one,” is not as helpful as actually seeing the actual bottles with the labels on them. Take all your medications, put them in a bag, and bring them with you. Tell your doctor if you’ve stopped taking any of your medications, and be honest if you haven’t been taking them as much as you were supposed to. Otherwise, your doctor may assume they’re not working, and prescribe you even more!

4. A list of alternative therapies. The majority of our patients use some type of alternative therapy. It is better for your doctor to know about it. Most doctors are not experts in herbal therapies, but it’s useful for them to know what’s your taking in case there are some interactions with your other medications. Keep a list of fish oil, vitamins, and supplements that you’re using, and a record of any visits to chiropractors, naturopaths, or other practitioners.

5. A journal of your symptoms. If you have a chronic condition, or if you have a new symptom you’re concerned about, you should be keeping a journal that documents your symptoms and how it is throughout the days and weeks. Your doctor may also ask you to keep track of your response to treatments you’re doing at home. Sometimes, there are objective measures that you need to write down, such as your blood sugar. Bringing the journal with you to your appointment can help remind you of your story, and allows for your doctor better understand what’s going on and how your symptoms affect your daily life.

6. A list of your questions. You should always come prepared with a list of questions to ask your doctor. Brainstorm the list well before your appointment, and have a concise list of questions, starting with the most urgent that you must get answered. Don’t leave your doctor’s office without asking them.

7. A notebook and pen. This may seem obvious, but your doctor may not always have writing equipment readily accessible, and it’s important to have a notebook and pen to take notes. Write down things that don’t make sense, and ask for clarification. If there are words mentioned that you’ve never heard of, ask your doctor to spell them. At the end of the visit, ask for a verbal summary. Make sure you write down and understand your plan.

8. A family member or a friend. Having someone with you will give you support and company during the appointment. As importantly, they can help remind you of your questions and concerns, and is another measure to help ensure your doctor answers all the questions that you have.

9. A smartphone. Everyone seems to have some kind of smartphone device: an iPhone, a Blackberry, an iPad. There will downtime when you’re waiting. Use this time to look up what your doctor has told you. The smartphone also keeps you busy if your wait is particularly long!

10. Some snacks. Often, there are limited food options are the doctor’s office, and you may be waiting for some time. Unless you’re told not to eat, or have a complaint that you’re not sure how it will go, having something on hand can help make you feel better.

I hope this list is useful for you as you prepare for your next doctor’s visit.

Leana Wen is an emergency physician who blogs at The Doctor is Listening. She is the co-author of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Prevent Misdiagnosis and Unnecessary Tests.  She can also be reached on Twitter @drleanawen.

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  • Kali

    This is a great list. Having also a patient advocate with you can help, especially if you have various or long-term conditions your doctor is treating. Advocates can help organize your appointment so that important questions get asked and answered in a way that serves both the patient and physician and promotes engagement and adherence to treatment plans.

  • buzzkillersmith

    How about a blankie and some fuzzy slippers, some fragrant candles, maybe a nice cup of cocoa? Come on, Dr. W. Get in. Tell about the problem. Get out. Next case.

  • tweets21

    Most important item is a stop watch. Practice at home getting through your list, in 15 or less minutes. Talking to the Doc with his or her hand on the door knob, is not a good option. How the medical profession ever managed to get their system to where it is amazes me. PAtients have to put up with that ever is the current drill.

    • buzzkillersmith

      Learn a bit about insurance companies and your amazement will be cured. The medical profession is a flea on the elephant that is the money guys.

  • southerndoc1

    15 minutes visit if you’re lucky. 8 minutes go to data entry and MU chores. That leaves 7 minutes for the patient to use as they wish. Just realize that if it’s used up going over a “journal of symptoms,” there’s no time for exam, diagnosis, or treatment. Taking time from the next patient is not allowed. Modern assembly line medicine: deal with it.

  • Laurie Mann

    Back in 2004, I started tracking medicines/vitamins I was taking, including ones that either didn’t seem to work or that gave me weird side effects. This was useful, particularly a few years back when different doctors tried different drugs to control my somewhat high blood pressure. It took four failures to finally find the drug that worked for me (Benicar). I think keeping a drug history is more useful than just throwing your current meds into a bag.

  • fu lusu

    @Dr. Wen- true, the patient has to do his homework before seeing the dr., but your list makes me smile. ’10 things to always bring’ -i limit my list to 3 questions that i need answers for and i’m lucky if i make it past #2 without seeing my Dr start to stress when he sees my small 3×5 card i wrote them on..- and a journal? i think that would start to cause some hostility from an overworked,underpaid GP. he is lucky to have 5 minutes to spend with each patient.

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