Acing your next doctor appointment should be at the top of your priority list. The key to getting the most of your time with the doctor is in being prepared. People who prepare for visits with their doctor generally tend to experience higher satisfaction and better health outcomes.
What does it mean to prepare? Sandra Washington, patient advocate, speaker, and author joined me for this episode of Sage Aging to discuss. We covered a lot of ground, so I decided to split this conversation into two episodes. This one covers being prepared. Next time we’ll talk about your time with the doctor. Click the player above to listen.
Before Your Next Doctor Appointment
A successful visit with your doctor begins long before your actual appointment. Set the stage for success with a few simple preparations: (download the complete checklist)
Add your appointment to your calendar: We’d all like to think we can rely on our memories, but life gets busy! A successful appointment begins with getting there on time.
Make a list: If you have questions for your doctor or other things you want to discuss, write them down. Store your notes in your medical binder (see episode 29) or other safe location. It’s best to keep a running list or journal to record your observations, thoughts, and questions.
Know how to access your Electronic Health Record System (patient portal): This is a great tool for staying in the loop on your medical appointments, scheduling, records, and staying in touch with your doctor. Your portal can be used to schedule/adjust appointments and communicate with the doctor and medical staff.
Update your insurance information: Be sure to take your most recent insurance card/cards to your appointment and make sure the information on file for you is correct. NOTE: If you carry multiple insurance policies, make sure your doctor has that information to avoid billing issues.
Know how to contact your insurance company: If your doctor makes a referral to a lab or specialist, always check to confirm that the referral is in your provider network to avoid high out-of-pocket expenses. When in doubt, call your insurance company.
Confirm that HIPAA Authorization forms are in place for caregiver/advocate/care manager: This is very important! Medical providers CAN NOT share information with you without this in place.
During the Appointment
Inform your provider of health-related changes/occurrences since your last visit: Help them to help you! They can’t assist you in resolving your issues if you don’t tell them what is going on.
Clearly communicate questions or concerns: ⬆ This is where the list you made before the appointment comes in. Never hesitate to talk to your healthcare team. With your clear communication, they are better equipped to provide the best care and can lead you to answers and solutions.
If the doctor says something you don’t understand, ASK for clarification!: This is especially true in the case of a new diagnosis or treatment plan. It’s imperative that you/your care partners have a good understanding of your situation and plan. An educated and informed patient will have a better outcome/experience
Take notes: The person who accompanies you to the appointment can assist with this. It’s not always easy to digest everything discussed in the moment. Keeping good notes will allow you to revisit the conversation and follow up with questions and concerns.
After the Appointment
Schedule your next appointment: Don’t leave it until later. Getting an appointment with the doctor is not always easy. Even if you are scheduling a year out, get that appointment on their books and your calendar.
Fill your prescriptions and take meds as instructed: That seems simple, right? It should be, but being inconsistent with prescribed meds is very common and can cause all kinds of issues, including unwanted side effects. If you experience negative side effects or complications with medications, call your provider immediately. Chances are a tweak to the dosage or change of medication can be made.
Review your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from your insurance company BEFORE paying any bills: Don’t take for granted that the coding and billing are accurate. Compare your EOB to your bill to ensure you are not paying for something you did not receive. If you find a discrepancy, contact your insurance company and/or medical provider.
What is a Patient Advocate?
“A person who helps guide a patient through the healthcare system. This includes help going through the screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of a medical condition, such as cancer. A patient advocate helps patients communicate with their healthcare providers so they get the information they need to make decisions about their health care. Patient advocates may also help patients set up appointments for doctor visits and medical tests and get financial, legal, and social support. They may also work with insurance companies, employers, case managers, lawyers, and others who may have an effect on a patient’s healthcare needs. Also called patient navigator.” (National Cancer Institute)
Understand your Explanation of Benefits (EOB): An EOB is a statement you receive from your health insurance plan after a medical visit. It describes what costs it will cover for the care you’ve received, network discounts, and what you, the patient, are responsible for. Before paying medical bills, always review your EOB to confirm the services you received have been reported and billed properly.
Liz Craven, along with her husband Wes, owns Pro-Ad Media, publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, serving the local community for over 28 years. Liz lives in Lakeland and is very active in the local community, specifically in the area of aging. Liz serves on a number of local boards and committees including the Lakeland Vision and Age Friendly Lakeland.