Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Visit

Understanding basic health information in order to prevent or treat an illness, also known as health literacy, is the best predictor of a person’s health status. By asking your doctor questions about medications, diagnosis and treatment, you will be more successful in managing your health. It is best stated by Richard Carmona, MD, US Surgeon General when he said “we must close the gap between what health care professionals know and what the rest of America understands.”

Patients often feel rushed or unprepared for doctor’s appointments, so a little preparation will ensure the visit is more productive and less stressful. Planning ahead will also allow you to think through questions and concerns to get the answers you need to improve or maintain your health.


1. Booking the appointment

When scheduling your doctor’s appointment, describe in detail why you need to see the doctor. If you are having tests done, be sure to ask if there are any instructions you need to know (i.e.) not eating or drinking fluid before the visit) or if they can send you any necessary paperwork to complete ahead of time.

2. Prepare in advance

It’s easy to forget things when you are called in to the exam room. Start a list of items you need to bring with you to your visit, and include:

  • Identification (driver’s license)
  • List of medications you take, including over the counter medicine, vitamins and supplements
  • List of questions and concerns
  • Money for co-pay and insurance cards including Medicare and Medicaid
  • Pen or pencil for taking notes
  • Prescriptions that need to be refilled
  • Reason for seeing the doctor

3. Arrive early!

This will allow time to complete needed paperwork and relax for a moment before you see the doctor.

4. During your appointment

When you meet with the doctor, tell him/ her that you have questions to ask. Don’t be nervous. According to the Ask Me 3 program and Partnership for Clear Health Communication at the National Patient Safety Foundation, you’ll be better prepared to take care of your health by asking the following three questions during your doctor’s visit:

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this? If you need more clarification, tell your doctor you do not understand. If medical terms are confusing you, ask him or her to explain further, give you an example or use a visual.

5. Follow Up

If your doctor recommends any diagnostic or screening tests, follow-up appointments, new medications or diet/exercise changes, be proactive. Make those necessary arrangements and provide updates to your doctor’s office.

Co-authored by:

Kellie Visker Gonyar, MA
Service Excellence Coordinator for Post Acute Care Services, Carolinas HealthCare System

Robin Hudson, RN,
Coordinator of Staff Education for Healthy@Home

As part of the continuum of healthcare services offered by Carolinas HealthCare System.

Healthy@Home allows older adults to live longer, happier, healthier lives in their own homes.

To learn more about Healthy@Home, visit