by Leana Wen, M.D.
Has this ever happened to you: You are at an appointment with your doctor. She asks you for something, say, the dosage of your cholesterol medication or the results of the recent blood test. And you think to yourself, “Shoot, if only I brought that with me!”
Every day, I see patients who forgot to bring something critical to their doctor’s appointment. Sometimes, there may be emergency situations that you can’t plan for, such as an accident that requires a visit to the emergency room. But thankfully, most of the time, you do have a heads-up for going to the doctor. Whether it’s an annual check-up, or a scheduled appointment, or even an urgent care drop-in because of a bad sore throat, here are the 10 things you should always bring with you:
#1: A Medical Card
It would be ideal if every doctor had your full medical history, especially if you are seeing a coverage doctor or visiting the E.R. But our country is not even close to having a nationally accessible medical record system. To make sure your doctor has your medical information available, carry a card with you. You can find many cards easily downloadable on the internet or make your own. Key information on the card should include: medical problems, past surgeries, doctor’s names, next of kin, health insurance, and medication allergies. Carry this in your wallet wherever you go to makes sure that whatever doctor you see will always have your most critical medical history.
#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 you’re seeing the doctor who sent you to get the test, bringing the results will make sure that they are discussed during the visit. This is particularly important if you are going to see a new doctor or specialist; bringing results with you will give them the most complete picture, speed up your diagnosis, and also reduce the need for further testing that can bring additional, unnecessary side effects or costs.
#3: Your Medications
Very often, patients go to see their doctor and say that they can’t remember what medications they are 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 bottles with the labels and dosage on them. Take all your medications, put them in a bag, and bring them with you to the appointment. 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 Any Alternative Therapies
Doctors know that the majority of our patients use some type of alternative therapy. It is important for your doctor to know about all the different treatments you are doing. Most doctors are not experts in alternative medicines, but it’s useful for them to know what you’re taking in case there are some interactions with your other medications or treatments. Keep a list of any fish oil, vitamins, and supplements that you’re using, and a record of visits to chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, or other practitioners.
#5: A Symptoms Journal
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 throughout the days and weeks leading up to your appointment. Your doctor may also ask you to keep track of your response to prescribed treatments. Sometimes, there are objective measures that you need to write down, such as your blood sugar. Sometimes, they are purely subjective, for example, your headache intensity. Bringing the journal with you to your appointment can help your doctor better understand what’s going on and how your symptoms affect your daily life.
#6: A List of 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 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 Friend
Having someone with you will give you support and company during the appointment. Just as importantly, they can help remind you of your questions and concerns, and act as 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 these days. There will inevitably be downtime while you’re waiting to see the doctor or for test results. Use this time to look up what your doctor has told you. The smartphone also keeps you busy if your wait is particularly long!
Often, there are limited food options the doctor’s office or hospital, and you may be waiting for some time depending on the reason for your visit. Unless you’re told not to eat, or aren’t sure how long your appointment will be, having some food 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. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and encourage you to visit the website for my new book, When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests, at www.whendoctorsdontlisten.com. Thank you for listening!