The road to finding a new physician can be a bumpy one. Not only is it difficult to find a doctor a doctor you like, but it’s often even harder to discern a good fit from a poor one from the first appointment. If you want to get a good sense of whether your new doctor is right for you, you need to be diligent as you prepare to have your first appointment. When you’re well-prepared, it’s easier to determine whether you have made the right decision in choosing your physician. 

Before you even schedule your appointment with a new doctor, you should do plenty of preliminary research to help you choose a physician who will be a good fit for you. You'll want to speak with office staff and do online research about the office operations, so you can ensure your expectations will be met. After you have decided on a new doctor and scheduled your first appointment, follow this simple checklist to help guide you through the preparation process methodically. 

1. Inquire about insurance coverage and billing practice.

When making your appointment, be sure that your new doctor takes your insurance. It would be helpful to know exactly how much the co-pay will be for regular office visits. Find out how the doctor’s office bills for their services and whether they have payment plan options. You may want to contact your insurance to verify that you'll be covered and find out about any additional payments you might have to make. Don't let the bill be a surprise later. 

2. Locate your medical records.

 Obtain your medical records from any previous physician(s), usually from their office or the medical records department if they are located at a hospital. It is also useful to obtain any pertinent imaging (CT scan, MRI, X-ray, etc.), as well as the results from blood work and screening tests.

3. Prepare a list of current medications.

There are two ways to prepare the list of medications you are taking. If you feel comfortable writing down all of the names, dosages, and frequencies of every prescription medication, over-the-counter drug, and supplement, then feel free. Another option is to bring all the bottles to your first appointment and allow the staff and your new physician to assist you with everything right there, in case there are any questions.

4. Pre-appointment bloodwork.

Your physician may want baseline blood work done before your first appointment, so they have it on hand when speaking with you for the first time. However, these tests are often completed after the first appointment when they decide what is truly needed.

5. Prepare a list of questions for your new doctor.

Before you go to your appointment, it will be helpful to write down a list of specific questions to ask your doctor during the visit. Below, find an extensive list of potential questions organized by medical topics that your doctor should discuss with you during the initial examination.

Keep in mind, if you have specific needs for diagnosis and treatment, not all of these issues can always be addressed at the first visit. You may have to schedule follow-ups for specialized assessments. Asking the right questions at your first visit will help you make sure your new physician can provide the ongoing care you need. This list can help you choose any relevant questions you want to ask so that you can prepare a short list ahead of time.

Medical history and current symptoms:

When discussing your medical history and ongoing symptoms, you may want to ask your doctor any of the following questions.

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • Do my symptoms correlate with any other illnesses?
  • Are there any symptoms I might experience that warrant an immediate call to you, a trip to the emergency room, or cessation of medication?
  • Are there any symptoms that might change your assessment of my diagnosis?
  • How often have you treated this condition?
  • Do I need to see a specialist for my condition? Do you have a referral?
  • Is there anything I should do to keep a better list of symptoms, or to gather useful data for you?
  • How would you treat this issue if you had it?

Surgical history:

If you have had any surgeries in the past, the following questions may be relevant when determining if your doctor is a good fit for your needs.

  • Do my symptoms indicate a surgical complication?
  • Do you recommend any follow-up surgeries?
  • Can you recommend any aftercare or ongoing treatment following my procedure?

Allergies:

When discussing allergies with your doctor, consider asking the following:

  • Do my symptoms point to a possible allergy?
  • Do you recommend a new course of treatment for my allergy symptoms?
  • What are the recommended alternatives for the medications I’m allergic to, and what risk factors do they carry?
  • What are the symptoms of allergy or adverse reaction to any new medication I’m prescribed?
  • Do my symptoms indicate that I should be tested for specific allergies?
  • Can you recommend an allergy specialist?

Medications:

When discussing current or newly prescribed medications, be sure to inquire about the following:

  • How and when should I take a new medication and at what dosage?
  • What are the most common side effects of the medication you recommend?
  • How will I know whether the medication is working or not?
  • Do I have to take medication? What happens if I don't?
  • Are there generic alternatives to the medication? What is the primary difference between the generic and name brand?
  • Should I consider changing any of my medications?
  • Are prescriptions printed out for you to take to the pharmacy, or can the physician’s office call them in or submit them electronically?

Family history:

If your family has a history of any medical conditions, make sure to address it with the doctor and ask about the following:

  • Should I be tested or screened for any hereditary conditions, when and how often?
  • What symptoms should I watch out for relating to hereditary medical issues?

Immunizations:

Your new doctor will check that your immunizations are up to date and may administer those that are currently needed. Be sure to ask:

  • What are common side effects associated with the recommended immunizations and the risk factors for those?
  • Why do you recommend the immunization and is it necessary?

Screening tests:

At a visit with a new doctor, you will likely undergo various bloodwork and other tests for preventative care. Consider asking about the following:

  • What tests do I need? Can I skip any of these? Which ones are the most important?
  • When can I expect to get test results? How do you share those results (phone, email, letter?)
  • How often should I be screened?

Alternative therapies:

Not all doctors talk about alternative medicine. If this type of care is important to you, be sure to address it with the doctor.

  • How do you feel about lifestyle and alternative remedies?
  • Can you recommend any alternative treatments for my symptoms?
  • Inquire about the doctor’s opinion on any specific alternative treatments or remedies you are interested in or are already practicing.

Lifestyle health:

During your check-up, the doctor will talk about healthy lifestyle, i.e., topics such as work, relationships, exercise, diet, sleep, bad habits, etc. You may consider asking the following:

  • Do I need to change the way I live? How can you help me make a healthy lifestyle plan?
  • What lifestyle remedies can I try? Is there any possibility that they will thoroughly address my symptoms?

Mental health:

It’s important to discuss mental health issues with your doctor, especially if you feel you have any that affect your life. Ask about the following:

  • Are my mental health symptoms typical, or do they require professional attention?
  • Can you recommend a mental health specialist?
  • What different types of treatment are commonly suggested for these mental health symptoms?

Sexual health:

Don’t be shy to ask your doctor about sexual health concerns. The doctor should be non-judgmental — sexual health is a key component of overall wellbeing.

  • Does your office offer preventative care for reproductive health (i.e., pap smears, testing)?
  • What types of sexual health treatments and testing do you recommend?
  • Inquire about contraception needs
  • Should I see a specialist (i.e., an OB/GYN)? Do you have a referral?

Future health care planning:

Make sure to find out how your new doctor will meet you ongoing or urgent healthcare needs.

  • Do you have a nurse’s hotline or offer telephone consultations with on-call physicians at the practice?
  • Do you have walk-ins or allow last-minute scheduling for appointments to address injuries or illnesses requiring urgent but non-emergency attention?
  • What is the protocol for making follow-up visits and when you should make your next appointment?
  • Will I always be able to see you (the primary care physician) or will some appointments need to be made with other medical professionals at the facility?

Being well prepared for your first visit with a new physician is the best way to help you get to know your new doctor and make sure you get everything you need out of your appointment. It may seem like a lot of effort, but it's worth it. Be sure to learn about what to expect during and after your first appointment with a new doctor, too.

How do you prepare to meet a new doctor? Share in the comments below.

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