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ARTICLE Getting the Most of Your Doctor Visits

Getting the Most of Your Doctor Visits

Whether you're sick or having a routine checkup, you probably have questions for your doctor. Make sure you get the answers by taking time to prepare for your appointment. Completing our Family Health History Tree is a great first step in preparing for your doctors visit. It can be used during your doctor visits to help physicians prescribe a more personalized preventive and/or treatment plan. Also, consider having a friend or family member come along with you to provide support or even take notes.


Selecting a doctor

You're more likely to bring up all your health concerns with a doctor you feel comfortable with. Your primary doctor should be most familiar with your medical history, and so is probably the perfect person to coordinate your care and refer you to specialists as necessary.

What type of primary care doctor is right for you? Consider these options:

  • Family and general practitioners care for a wide range of health concerns. They may be able to treat family members of any age.
  • Internists treat adults and may have additional training in specialties such as cardiology.
  • OB/GYN (obstetrics/gynecology) practitioners specialize in women's health, including pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Pediatricians provide care to children and adolescents.
  • Geriatricians specialize in the care of older adults.

Determine if your doctor is in the network

You'll probably pay less when you visit doctors or other health care professionals in your plan's network. Already a UnitedHealthcare plan member? See if your doctor is in the network.

Why do you need a primary care doctor?

Choosing a primary care doctor is something most managed care plans require. But, even if your plan doesn't require it, finding one is a good idea. Why? If you see the same doctor who knows you and your medical history, that person can help coordinate your care. For example, your primary care doctor:

  • Treats routine illnesses
  • Performs regular check-ups and screenings
  • Is your first call for health concerns
  • Refers you to specialists when you require further tests or care

How to select a primary care doctor

It's important to find a primary care doctor that is right for you. Rather than randomly picking someone from your plan's network, consider these steps:

  • Ask for referrals from friends and family. Then check to see if those doctors are in your plan's network.
  • Refer to our Online Directory of African American Physicians. Then check to see if those doctors are in your plan's network.
  • Search your plan's network for doctors whose locations are convenient for you and your family.
  • Research the doctor's education, certification and performance history. Websites like abms.org and ama-assn.org are great resources for this. Also, check your health plan to see which doctors have been specially designated for quality.
  • Call the doctors on your list to find out more information about things like cancellation and payment policies, insurance claims and after-hour health concerns.
  • Find out who covers for your doctor when he or she is not available.
  • Schedule an appointment with your top choice to go over your medical history, discuss your health concerns and determine if it's a good fit.

Depending on your situation, you may choose different primary care providers for each member of the family. Types of doctors include:

  • Family or general practitioner. These doctors care for a wide range of health concerns and may be able to treat family members of any age.
  • Internist. Internists treat adults and may have additional training in specialties, such as cardiology.
  • OB/GYN (obstetrics/gynecology). These practitioners specialize in women's health, including pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Pediatricians. Pediatricians specialize in health care for children and adolescents.
  • Geriatricians. These doctors focus on health care for older adults.

Information to provide your doctor

You might be asked to share the following information at your appointment:

  • Medical history – Tell your doctor about current or past health conditions. Also discuss your family medical history. Consider completing our Family Health History Tree prior to your visit.
  • Allergies – Mention any allergies you have.
  • Medications and supplements – Bring a list of all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbs you're taking.
  • Health insurance – Bring your health plan ID card with you.

Before your visit

Think about and jot down what you'll say and what you want to ask. For example, ask yourself:

  • Am I experiencing any health issues or symptoms that I'm concerned about? How should I describe them to the doctor?
  • How long have I had these symptoms? Have they changed over time?
  • What information do I need?
  • Refer to a convenient Tip Sheet: Get the Most from your Doctor Visits

During your visit

Your list of questions is just a guide. During your visit, more questions may come to mind. Don't be afraid to bring them up. These questions may get you started:

  • Am I due for any routine screenings or immunizations?
  • Have any of the routine screenings found something? If so, what's the diagnosis?
  • Are additional tests needed?
  • What treatment is recommended? What are the benefits and risks?
  • What are the instructions associated with any medications you're prescribed?
  • Can your doctor give you any written materials or online resources where you can learn more about your condition?
  • Should you schedule a follow-up visit?
  • If your condition doesn't improve, how long should you wait before returning to the doctor?

Questions to consider asking about self-care:

  • What home treatment or over-the-counter medications are needed?
  • What results are expected?
  • Are there dietary or activity instructions or restrictions?

You might want to bring a notebook and pen to jot down additional questions and your doctor's recommendations during your appointment.

Checklists to take on your visit

Consider these checklists to help you prepare for your next doctor's visit.

  • Complete our Family Health History Tree – Know your family's health history and be prepared to complete documents on your paternal and maternal medical history.
  • Get the Most from your Doctor Visits – It's a good idea to remind yourself how to prepare for any doctor's visit.
  • Diagnosis checklist – If your doctor diagnoses you with a problem or condition, get some helpful facts by ticking off these questions.
  • Prescription checklist – Think about asking your doctor these questions every time she prescribes a new medication.
  • Test checklist – If your doctor wants you to have an MRI, a CT scan or some other specialty test, you may want to ask these questions.
  • Healthy heart checklist – It's important to know what you can do to start living a healthy heart lifestyle.
  • Cancer care checklist – Bring this card with you the next time you visit your doctor.
  • Surgery checklist – When your doctor says, "You need surgery," that's your cue to find out the details.
  • Discharge checklist – Review your discharge plan with both your in-hospital doctor and your primary care doctor.

After your visit

  • Stay in touch with your doctor if you need further assistance. It's okay to ask more questions after your appointment.
  • Follow all treatment instructions.
  • Report any problems with medication.
  • Call your doctor if your condition persists or worsens.
  • Keep your follow-up appointment.
  • Follow recommended preventive care and wellness lifestyle changes.