Even the simplest visit to the doctor has a lot of moving parts: You have to make the appointment, wait for the appointment, and answer the same questions three times in a row because it seems like nobody actually reads your chart. Fortunately, the subreddit r/medicine has tips for navigating this whole situation.
Call at 8 a.m. to make an appointment
The exact time will vary from place to place, but there may be an hour in the morning when the people who work the front desk are dealing with the day’s cancellations and scheduling new appointments. Here’s how one front-desk scheduler explains it:
Our [schedulers] at our clinic are pretty efficient and by 8:30-9:00 they have that schedule filled out. If you call at 8 AM, when we open, they will take the opportunity to toss you on the schedule since you are talking to them right now, rather than go down the list trying to get ahold of people.
If you go to the same office frequently, ask the front desk people if they can recommend the best time to call.
Take the first appointment of the day, or the first of the afternoon
To minimize waiting when you finally get there, try to schedule an appointment that’s early in the day, or that is right after lunch. (So, take the 8 a.m. or the 1 p.m. if you have the option.) Appointments tend to get backed up if there’s an emergency or if earlier appointments ran long, so it helps to get in before those unforeseen things have a chance to happen.
Bring hard copies of important paperwork
Sure, in theory, hospitals and doctor’s offices can send records electronically. But unless all your docs are part of the same hospital system, a printout is going to be faster and easier. The same goes for any information you can write down. One psychiatrist explains:
Your doctor probably read the chart, but the chart is, by design, almost unreadable. It’s full of things that aren’t true. It’s missing things that are important. Because of that, relying on the chart for any past history is a bad idea. There’s a reason you get asked the same questions over and over, unfortunately.
Because of that, it’s very, very helpful for you to know your own medical history, your own medications, and even when your appointments are. Bringing details in writing is never a bad idea, especially if it’s a copy you can give up. Trying to list the pills you take off the top of your head is how things get messed up.
For similar reasons, it can be handy to get a paper copy of your order for an MRI or blood draw. These don’t have to be done at the same hospital or office where your doctor works, and sometimes you can find a better price or a more convenient location if you shop around. A hard copy of the order will make your life easier.
Get a printout of your medications
One of those questions you’ll be asked every time is what medications you are taking. If there are several, don’t rely on memory. Ask your pharmacist to print out a list of everything you’re taking, complete with dosage and instructions.
Over-the-counter medications and supplements won’t be on this list, so make sure to put together your own list—or at the very least, take photos of the labels so you have specifics to share.
Bring photos on your phone, too
Just as it’s useful to take photos and screenshots of important documents when you travel, you can do the same thing for medical appointments. Take photos of those hard copies you think you might lose. Take photos of your medication labels. Take photos of your insurance cards. And if you have access to imaging that you got elsewhere, save that on your phone too. One MD writes:
Bring your phone and be able to get labs/image from outside facilities on there, it’s really handy to be able to see imaging from some rando er that you went to in the middle of the night and it will take me weeks to get a ct.
Carry your insurance card
All those little numbers on your insurance card are important, so carry it with you, or at least have a photo on your phone. A front desk person adds:
If you have a Medicare replacement plan please still carry the red/white/blue Medicare card. I know that the insurance co told you not to carry it. I wish they would stop. I still need to load the Medicare MBI into the system even for replacement plans.
It’s not like the old days where your Medicare number was your SSN with a letter at the end. It’s safe to keep in your wallet now. It’s a random set of letters and numbers that have nothing to do with your SSN. Please for the sake of my sanity carry it. The website we use (Connex) is absolute garbage and takes way too long to get your Medicare number outta it.
Check for prescription drug coupons
If you have insurance, you’ve probably got a copay or coinsurance on expensive drugs. But in this bizarre world we live in, drug manufacturers want your insurance money so bad that they will pay you to cover your copay so that you’ll get your insurance to pay them the rest. It’s a racket, and you’re caught in the middle, so you might as well make the best of it.
GoodRX is one place you can check for coupons. Also look up the manufacturer’s website to find coupons and other assistance. Some companies will pay a portion of your costs even if you don’t have insurance.
Write down questions
You know you’re going to think of questions to ask right after you leave the office. Think ahead, and start keeping a list of questions before you go to the doctor. This can even be a note on your phone where you jot things down throughout the year to ask at your annual checkup. And if you’re in the hospital or having frequent doctor visits, you might want to keep a notepad handy for middle-of-the-night concerns. Here’s a recommendation from a nurse:
As a night shift nurse, I strongly encourage patients to write down questions or concerns they have overnight so they can address them when their doctor rounds in the morning. There’s a lot of things I refuse to page about in the middle of the night and the patient is worried they’ll forget to bring it up. I sometimes write in on their white board for them and ensure them I’ll bring it up with the day nurse too.
Always follow up
If you’re supposed to get test results back in a few days, set a reminder to check on those results. We’re often told that no news is good news, but every now and then, a provider will forget to call, or an email notification will end up in your spam folder. If it’s important, follow up.
But that doesn’t mean you need to constantly refresh MyChart until the results roll in. As one doctor notes:
We deal with most medically urgent things urgently. Most minor lab or imaging abnormalities can wait a bit before we talk about them. If you’re prone to anxiety about minor abnormalities, it’s best to stay off the online portal and avoid looking at your results until you talk to your doc[to]r.
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