Ask Dr. M: How should I prepare to see a new doctor?
Question: I’m seeing a new doctor for the first time. How should I prepare for my appointment, and what can I expect?
Finding a primary care physician that’s a great fit isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely rewarding. A healthy relationship with your doctor is one of the best routes to a healthier body and mind. So if you’re about to see a new doc for the first time, here’s how you can make the most of that first encounter.
Gather your medical records.
The most important thing to do before you see a new doctor is to gather all of your past medical history. This includes things like:
- Test dates (like when was your last physical?)
- Immunization records (what you have and haven’t gotten)
- Surgical records (reasons for the surgery, as well as outcomes)
- Past health care providers (it’s a good idea to know their first and last name, as well as the name of the institution where you saw them)
- Prescriptions (you can even simply bring all of your prescriptions with you! There is so much information on the bottles or boxes they’re dispensed in, like refills, dosage, etc., that would be valuable for your new doctor to know)
Having this information ready means you don’t have to memorize it all, and that everything is relayed accurately to your doctor, since they may not have access to it.
Take stock of any additional information about your health history.
Some important medical information might not be documented within your medical records. If possible, ask your close family members for information about their own health history that may be relevant to you, such as any hereditary conditions.
It’s also important to take note of how you’ve been feeling recently. Headaches? Fatigue? Loss of appetite? This is all important information your new doctor should know.
Lastly, be prepared to disclose information regarding your lifestyle and sexual health, such as whether or not you smoke, drink, how much exercise you get on a regular basis, and if you are currently sexually active. While these are super personal questions, being honest and open is the best way to be treated effectively by your provider.
Prepare a list of questions.
Before you book your appointment, get clear on why you are seeking the appointment in the first place, and be sure to mention this to the receptionist when booking. This way you can prioritize what you need to talk about, ensuring you have enough time with the doctor, and neither of you feel rushed during your appointment.
Consider bringing a friend.
Seeing a new physician can be nerve-racking, and some of us don’t perform well under pressure. If you bring a friend or family member with you, they can act as your back up, advocating on your behalf or asking questions you may forget.
It’s important to be early to a new doctors appointment for a few reasons. First, it’s just good manners. Second, there will likely be some new patient forms you need to fill out, and you don’t want that to cut into your face time with the doc. Third, your doctor may be able to fit you in earlier than expected, making both of your days go a bit smoother. For the shortest wait times, it’s also a good idea to schedule your visit for first thing in the morning, before your doctor has a chance to get behind.
We already told you to come ready to discuss your main health concerns. But it’s also important to ask your doctor questions about themselves and their practice, so you can determine if they are a good fit for you, before you’re in too deep.
Some important questions could include:
- How do you approach the patient-physician relationship?
- How does your office handle emergencies?
- Am I able to call or email you with non-emergency questions? If so, how long should I expect to wait for a response?
- How long should I expect to wait for an appointment after calling to schedule one?
- If you are unavailable, whom should I expect to see?
- Do you keep paper or electronic medical records?
- Do you have an online resource with additional information?
It’s a good idea to approach your first appointment with a new doctor like you’re just getting to know each other. Be open and honest, but also be prepared to move on if things don’t feel right — perhaps their communication style doesn’t work for you, or they seem overworked or distracted. These are completely valid reasons to look elsewhere, because at the end of the day, both you and your doctor should be looking out for number one: you. No exceptions.