How to Prepare for a Doctor's Appointment

Preparing for your doctor's appointment is key to getting the most from the visit. Getting together the information you need before a medical appointment can make the entire experience go much more smoothly. It can yield better information, support a good relationship with your doctor, and may, as a result, improve your care outcomes.

Doctor shaking hands with a patient
Annie Engel / Getty Images

Preparing for Your First Visit to a New Doctor

Here is a list of items for you to take with you to your appointment:

  • Your insurance, Medicare or Medicaid card, and a picture ID such as a driver's license. If you are in the U.S. and don't have insurance, then be sure to get permission to pay in cash when you make your appointment and ask how much it will be. If they ask for your social security number, know that you may be able to deny them information about it.
  • A current record of every drug and herbal substance you take, including alcohol. It might be easiest to throw all your pill and supplement bottles into a bag to take with you—they will have your dosage written on them, so it's easy to figure out what you take each day. Alternatively, you can make a list to take with you, including the name of the drug or supplement, the dosage, and how often you take it. If you drink alcohol, write down how much you drink. Be sure to note if you smoke or chew tobacco or marijuana.
  • A list of any allergies you have, even if you don't know their cause.
  • A list of all the doctors you have seen within the past two years, including your primary and all specialists. Include their specialty, location, and contact information. If you are part of a system that uses electronic records, they may already have some of this information and can access it. But not all doctors are connected to all records, so it's better to have that information handy if needed.
  • Notes about your family's medical history that may affect your health and care.
  • A list of two or three questions you have for your doctor. If you have more questions than two or three, then prioritize them ahead of time so you can be sure to have time for the most important ones. If you don't finish them all, you'll need to make an extra appointment.

If This Is Not Your First Appointment With This Doctor

Here is a list of items for you to take with you to your appointment:

  • Insurance and identification information described above.
  • A record of your symptoms or side effects, their frequency, and what triggers them. You may not know all that information, but to the extent, you can record it will be helpful to both you and your doctor. If you are in pain, do your best to rate your pain on that scale of one to 10. If you are experiencing side effects, record what you think is causing them (like which drug do you think is the cause?) and what makes you think that is true.
  • Updates to any of the information above since the last time you saw this doctor. For example, you may have been prescribed a drug by another doctor and this doctor will need to know about it. Or your family history may have changed — if your mother was diagnosed with cancer or your father developed dementia since your last visit, that is important information for your own medical history.
  • A list of questions relevant to this new visit to the doctor. Remember, limit them to two or three, and if you have more, prioritize them.

Visiting a Specialist or Seeking a Second Opinion

Be sure to have your payer's permission, in writing, for the visit. Many doctor's offices won't ask for this, but some will. If you are seeking a second opinion, take copies of the results of any tests that have already been run, including X-ray films, MRIs, or CT scans which may be supplied to you on a CD or DVD.

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.