Making Every Minute Count: An Insight Into Making the Most of Your Medical Appointment

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With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance has become more accessible. Prior to ACA, 21% of blacks did not have health insurance. However, with the Medicaid expansion and premium tax credits, 94% of uninsured blacks will be eligible for coverage. While over 6 million Americans have signed up for health insurance through the exchanges, it is impossible to determine how many of them are minorities at this time. Current administration hopes increased coverage will improve access to care and address racial health care disparities. A key component to successfully addressing these disparities is educating newly insured minority patients about making the most of their doctor visits. Regular annual physician visits are needed to detect and treat the initiation of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Equally important, patients should have any new symptoms or physical changes diagnosed and addressed by a physician. With this in mind, there are a few ways to prepare for either a new patient or new complaint visit.

If you are a new patient without a presenting illness, a physician will seek to unveil your medical history, current medication usage, family history, and social history. Prior to your appointment, make a list of any current medications you are taking with frequency and dosage. You should include any supplements and over-the-counter medications. It may also be helpful to prepare a list of questions for your physician about any health concerns. At the time of your appointment, you will want to inform your doctor about any prior trips to the emergency room, surgeries, or allergies. Your physician should also ask about sexual activity including; number of partners, gender of partners, and use of protection. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are on many doctors’ radars as the incidence of diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are rising. Being honest and open with your physician will get you the care that you need. A family history is helpful in determining a patient’s risk for conditions such as diabetes, heart attack, or high blood pressure. Be prepared to discuss these illnesses that may be affecting any grandparents, parents, siblings, or children. Finally, the social history may prove challenging for many patients. Discussing recreational drugs, alcohol, and tobacco may be uncomfortable, but your physician will need this information to get a complete picture of your health.

If you aren’t feeling well and are visiting the doctor with a health complaint there are a few things you can do to get the most accurate diagnosis. First, walk the physician through the injury or time you noticed the symptoms begin. Where were you? What were you doing at the time? Be sure to vividly describe the symptoms. Is the pain dull, sharp or burning?  Does it travel down the body? Where exactly is the pain located? Did you notice any other physical changes that accompanied the problem? Keep track of activities that make the symptoms better or worse. Try to recall if this problem has ever happened before and how this incidence may be different.

With these topics in mind, visiting a new doctor or addressing a new illness should be easier. At the end of the day, you should always see these visits as a time to ask questions and gain a better understanding about yourself, and any health concerns you may have.

by Priscilla De La Cruz, MD Candidate 2017, Albany Medical College


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  1. Kelly T.

     /  April 24, 2014

    Great info on prepping to make your doctor appointment more meaningful. I would also add to educate yourself on how billing works. It’s important to ask your insurance provider what your copay and/or co-insurance will be before you see the doctor. Also most plans have a deductible, which is what you need to pay before your insurance carrier will pay anything. The ACA has a good glossary of billing terms that are useful:


  2. Stacey David

     /  April 24, 2014

    These are all very insightful tips to making our doctor’s visits run smoothly and ensuring that the physician has all the information they need to make the right diagnosis. However, physician’s offices’ need to play a role in implementing procedures that minimize wait time for their patients. As you stated in your piece, health insurance is more accessible now with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), consideration for the people who keep doctors in business should be paramount. There is no reason why individuals should spend half of their day in a medical office.
    This issue is particularly prevalent in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods where people can wait hours before being seen. Individuals wait half a day to see a doctor and in most cases these are the people who cannot afford to do that. Then your actual visit takes less than five minutes. The situation is even worst for children and the elderly who may be distressed. So the question becomes do I go get the care I need or lose a day’s pay? Guess which option they choose?
    While I have seen a few offices recently with online check-in and sign-in tablets at the receptionists’ desk, these small innovations do little to reduce the time spent waiting. So here are some ideas that can help before you get stuck at the doctor’s office; ask the appointment scheduler what is the lightest day for your doctor; do not schedule an appointment when school is on holiday (recent experience); and unless you absolutely must, do not make a Saturday appointment, it tends to be the busiest day. When you arrive and sign in, ask the receptionist what is the wait time, that way if you are busy you can either run an errand and return (be sure not to miss your time), otherwise sit read a book and hope for the best.



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