The national average frequency for doctor visits is about four times a year, but patients can play a bigger role than just showing up to ensure they are getting the care they need. Patients may leave the doctor’s office confused or overwhelmed, especially if they are facing a new treatment or diagnosis. Appointments can be brief, leaving you little time with the doctor to ask questions, discuss alternative treatments, and ease worries. It is vital to your health that you and your doctor practice good communication during these visits to ensure that you have all the information you need. 

One way patients can help themselves during doctor appointments is to practice self-advocacy. This concept of speaking up for yourself and your interests can help ensure you get everything you need from your doctor for better health care. This article can help patients understand self-advocacy and provide tips on how to practice this concept during appointments. 

Finding the Right Doctor

To advocate for yourself in a doctor’s office, it’s important to find the right doctor, especially if it’s a primary care physician. Facilitating a relationship with a primary care doctor can help improve patient care by allowing the doctor to get to know you, prescribe preventative care, and improve your overall lifestyle. 

The following tips can help you find the right doctor for your needs:

  • Talk to family and friends for doctor recommendations;
  • Make sure the office is within a reasonable distance of your home or work;
  • Pick a doctor that is covered by your insurance;
  • Compare physicians on a credible, medical website;
  • Call the office for a first impression of the practice and its staff;
  • Ask about how the practice is run and their values;
  • Ask about logistics, like prescription refills;
  • Prioritize your needs;
  • Find a doctor that is sensitive to your cultural and religious practices;
  • Make sure you and your doctor are on the same page with values and health philosophies. 


Preparing Before Your Appointment

To make the most out of your doctor’s appointment, it is essential to ensure you are prepared beforehand. This applies as much to patients who are seeing a doctor for the first time, as to those who have been with the same doctor for years. Here are a few best practices to prepare for your doctor appointment:

  • Research your condition and treatments: By doing this, you can help streamline your visit and avoid questions that could be potentially time-wasting. It’s important to ensure you are researching viable sources, like medical journals, and be wary of websites and groups that spread misinformation
  • Make a list of issues you want to address: Creating a list can help you prioritize any concerns you may have with medication or diagnoses, and can help ensure you don’t forget to mention anything to your doctor. You can fill out a checklist of your symptoms or keep a diary to help keep track of everything you are feeling.
  • Ask someone to come with you: If you are worried about remembering all the information from your doctor’s visit, consider asking a friend or family member to accompany you. That way, they can take notes and offer a different point of view while you focus on yourself and the doctor. 
  • Notify the office in advance: To ensure you have time for questions, patients can ask for additional time to talk with the doctor. By scheduling the extra time into your appointment, you won’t feel rushed to exit the doctor’s office and potentially forget to ask important questions. 
  • Send records ahead of time: New doctors will want to know your medical history before jumping into diagnosis or treatment. By sending your medical records ahead of time, the doctors can get acquainted with your files before the appointment. 


Taking Notes During Your Appointment

Since patients can feel overwhelmed with information during doctor appointments, some information may be forgotten after they leave. By taking notes during the appointment, you can double-check the information with the doctor while it’s fresh in your mind. Some examples of what to take note of are as follows:

  • Names of medications;
  • How often you should take certain medications;
  • Treatments and how they work;
  • How often you should see your doctor;
  • Any specialists they recommend;
  • Any verbiage that you are unsure of.


Additionally, you can ask for copies of your scans or test results. That way, you can look back on any information that might later be confusing. Lastly, if you don’t think you can write notes during your appointment, consider bringing a friend or family to help.

The Importance of Being Honest With Your Doctor

Recent studies show that 60-80% of patients are not fully honest with their doctors. Patients lie to their doctors for many reasons, including:

  • Embarrassment;
  • Disagreeing with the doctor’s recommendation;
  • Making unhealthy lifestyle choices;
  • Not wanting to take a certain medication;
  • Not understanding the doctor’s instructions.


However, lying for these reasons could lead to serious consequences. Not telling your doctor everything could lead to them prescribing medications that could negatively affect other medications or treatments. Here are a few examples of what you should consider telling your doctor during your appointment:

  • What you eat;
  • How often you exercise;
  • How well you sleep and for how long;
  • Your sexual history;
  • Any medical conditions that are already diagnosed;
  • Mental health issues;
  • Any use of vitamins, herbal supplements, or recreational botanicals;
  • Any use of prescribed medication;
  • Your energy level.

While some may see this as too much information, it is vital that your doctor know your lifestyle and habits to give you the care you need. 

Common Questions to Ask During Your Appointment

Asking questions is another important part of your doctor’s appointment. During a visit, there is a lot of information being exchanged, most of which is confusing and overwhelming. If you ask questions during the appointment, you have the chance to truly comprehend medical jargon, treatments, and medication.

Here are some examples of questions to ask during your doctor appointment:

  • Why is this test being done?
  • What steps does the test involve?
  • Are there any dangers or side effects?
  • How will I know the results?
  • What may have caused this condition?
  • How is this condition treated or managed?
  • How can I learn more about my condition?
  • What preventive care services are right for me?
  • Why are you prescribing this medication?
  • Are there steps I should be taking to improve my overall health?
  • When should I come back to see you again?
  • Should I be taking vitamins and supplements?
  • Which treatment is most common for my disease?


While this is not an exhaustive list of questions, they are a good starting point to begin conversations with your doctor. 

Practicing self-advocacy during doctor appointments can help create a space that patients feel comfortable in as well as allow them to have a participating role in their health care. By asking questions, taking notes, being honest, and preparing for the appointment, patients can get the treatment they deserve and need.


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