A woman talks to her doctor as bubbles float around them depicting a person writing in a journal, making a checklist, and collected medical records.

Meeting a New Doctor, Again? 3 Simple Steps to Prepare

When you’re a seasoned patient, it can feel like a drag to meet a new doctor for the umpteenth time. But for any number of reasons, we patients often find ourselves either being referred to a new specialist or seeking another opinion.

Summoning the mental reserves to “begin again” when you’ve already been at this for years takes focus and perseverance. To get the most out of the appointment—and make sure it’s productive in the short time you have—I have found it essential to prepare. Here are some ways that make it easier to do so when you really just don’t feel like it!

1. Draft your patient elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is a quick way to introduce yourself, a brief summary of the key points you want to convey. It’s used in networking contexts to make connections. But in my experience it’s extremely useful to have one for meeting doctors, too. They’re seeing dozens of patients all day, so a clear, concise summary of who you are and why you’re there cuts through the noise.

To create mine, I sit down (usually the night before) and recap my medical history. I decide what parts of it will be most pertinent to this particular doctor and jot them down. This brings important facts to the top of my mind. Some examples: When you started experiencing symptoms, when and how you were diagnosed, any medications you’ve tried and your responses, any other medical conditions you have.

2. Figure out your top goals for the appointment

This probably goes without saying, but it’s always best to know what you hope to achieve in this appointment. I find that if I give that just a bit of thought beforehand, I often leave feeling like I’m making some progress medically instead of twisting in the wind.

Goals can be specific, like setting up imaging, discussing new treatment options, and addressing your most concerning symptoms. But they can also be more general, like improving a poor quality of life because you’re miserable. Don’t hold back or be shy about what you need. Try to have your objectives in mind because some doctors will take the lead but others won’t.

3. Track down your most important medical records

(Even if you don’t have the hard copies in time, jot down your test results.)

Okay, this one’s not so simple sometimes. I personally find record-gathering one of the most tedious and time-consuming tasks as a patient. And you know what? I’ve realized that it’s not actually me, it’s the fact that a lot of medical offices don’t run all that efficiently, and therefore faxes don’t get sent, or requests have to be made several times before someone gets around to them. It’s astronomically easier when you’re seeing doctors within the same health or hospital system because they can easily access records from one another.

If you’re gathering records to bring yourself to a new doctor, you may have your work cut out for you. Start with the easiest part of the task first. Call the office and find out the steps involved. Transferring your records may take weeks so give yourself some time. If you don’t have them in time for your appointment, don’t worry—just write down some of the most important findings from your test results and bring them with you.

You know what they say—if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. But planning doesn’t have to be elaborate or take hours. If all you can carve out is 20 minutes the night before to think ahead to tomorrow’s appointment, you’ll be much better prepared.

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