12 tips for improving your medical visit

Every so often – on average, every two years – I end up posting a list of things I think will help people make the most out of their trip to a medical professional. Some of these don’t apply as much to doctor’s offices as they do to hospitals or outpatient services like an endoscopy clinic. These aren’t just things I think up, but things I hear other medical folks say as well. These are not, of course, medical advice or the point of view of any of my employers, and so on.

Again, these are things I think will help make your experience more effective. I am not saying they’re the way things should be, they just are that way right now. If you disagree (or have additional tips), post them in the comments!

  1. Do the “prep” for the test. If it says don’t eat, then don’t eat for the time specified. If it says “don’t have caffiene” then it means it. If your doctor does not give you prep for a test, ask if there is one.
  2. If you have not done the prep, be honest about it. You might “get away with” not doing the prep and still go through the test – but the results will be inaccurate.
  3. Herbal and dietary supplements count as medications.
  4. If you’re not taking your medication, be honest about it.
  5. Ask for instructions and explanations in writing. Seriously.
  6. Answer questions simply, but ask if they need to know details. For example, the question “Have your bowel habits changed?” can be answered “Yes, they’re looser/more constipated. Do you need more details than that?” It saves everyone time and embarrasment.
  7. Go to the bathroom when you first get to your appointment. Many people wait until they’re called, which slows everything down.
  8. Technicians and technologists cannot give you results. Period. Asking them “What did you see?” is understandable – but still asking them to give a diagnosis (and thus, breaking the law).
  9. Hospital departments are doctor’s offices. The lab cannot get your blood pressure just because you’re curious. X-ray cannot prescribe medications for you.
  10. Know your medications. If you forget your list of meds, saying “it’s the blue one” or “it starts with a H” isn’t enough to identify it. There are so many medications with so many similar names that it’s seriously dangerous to you for us to guess what your medications are.
  11. Many functions in a hospital are separated. The person doing your test may not even know where the transcriptionists, medical records, or billing are located. They may be halfway across town. Understand how that limits folks.
  12. The people doing your test generally have no control over your insurance company, approval, or payment. Insurers negotiate rates with providers. So two people with different insurers may be billed different amounts for the same test. Someone without insurance (but the cash to pay for it) typically pays the most. Yes, most “regular folks” in the medical field think this is jacked up as well.